Press release

Focus on #MeToo overlooks important lessons from activism in Global South

Published on 30 September 2020

Collective actions against sexual harassment in countries such as Egypt, the Philippines and India, need to be more widely recognised and learnt from to help tackle abuse against women. This is the argument made in a new collection of articles published by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), examining the experiences of female activists in 11 countries around the world.

Three years since #MeToo went viral, the authors argue that the continued focus on the western-centric movement risks overlooking the contributions, lessons learnt and potential collaborations from other anti-sexual harassment movements. They also highlight the added risk it can bring to feminist campaigns and women leading them in some countries, where they face backlash and accusations of acting out a ‘western agenda’.

The IDS Bulletin ‘Collective Action for Accountability of Sexual Harassment: Global Perspectives’ brings together diverse perspectives and a spectrum of experiences from well-defined and visible collective action against sexual harassment, such as Pakistan, India and Egypt, to contexts where voices are still silenced, including Burkino Faso and Benin.

The authors hope to raise a broader conversation about sexual harassment and abuse against women as a global issue that needs to be taken more seriously. This is particularly relevant in the wake of Covid-19 which has resulted in increased sexual harassment online and forced collective action to move more towards digital spaces.

Professor Mariz Tadros, Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies and co-editor of ‘Collective Action for Accountability of Sexual Harassment: Global Perspectives’ said:

“There is certainly a place for international movements like #MeToo to energise and galvanise. We also need to try and make more space for a wider variety of voices from national and local movements globally to be heard.

“Our goal is to pluralise the voices, experiences and insights from around the world that offer opportunities for learning and potentially for forging new solidarities for women’s rights globally.”

Case studies

Uniting Against the Tides: Filipino ‘Shefarers’, the Philippines

Filipino women started entering the male-dominated world of seafaring in the 1990s and have since faced a range of verbal and physical sexual harassment.  With technical difficulties of filing complaints and pursuing legal cases, especially when the incidents happen on board international ships and are committed by foreign nationals, the ‘Shefarers’ have started to organise via a women’s committee of the male-dominated seafarers union to raise awareness and confront the problem.

Crowdmapping sexual harassment experience in cities, Delhi, Kampala, Lima, Madrid, and Sydney

The Free to Be project initiated by Plan International in 2018 with Monash University’s XYX Lab and CrowdSpot, provided an app for young women in Delhi, Kampala, Lima, Madrid, and Sydney to identify and share their experiences of harassment in public spaces using map ‘pins’. The data and stories from thousands of girls challenged the perspectives of the police and authorities and highlighted the levels of harassment and violence that go unnoticed, in order to initiate behaviour change.

Female politicians facing a hostile environment, Pakistan

In Pakistan, women are harassed and intimidated by a highly patriarchal society for just daring to enter politics. Interviews with female politician across national and regional levels of government found wide reporting of experiencing silencing by men, verbal insults, online harassment and threats of violence. Women in Pakistan are trying to challenge the male dominant work culture and are calling for political parties to take more affirmative action. In the past women activists in Pakistan also held a long struggle against the practise of local leaders banning women from voting in elections. Now, under the new 2017 electoral laws, if the women’s vote is less than 10 per cent of total votes polled in a constituency, the election is declared void.

The IDS Bulletin ‘Collective Action for Accountability of Sexual Harassment: Global Perspectives’ edited by Professor Mariz Tadros and Jenny Edwards from the Institute of Development Studies.

Notes to Editor

  • The IDS Bulletin ‘Collective Action for Accountability of Sexual Harassment: Global Perspectives’ was funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, as part of the Action for Empowerment and Accountability (A4EA) international research programme.
  • The full list of articles and authors:
  • Collective Struggles Against Sexual Harassment: What We Have Learnt About Pathways to Accountability and their Outcomes, Mariz Tadros and Jenny Edwards Fighting Sexual Harassment on Campus: How Local Contexts of Different Universities Affect the Dynamics and Outcome of these Efforts, Amal Hamada, Ahmed Kheir, Enas Hamdy and Heba Youssif
  • Women Politicians Navigating the ‘Hostile Environment’ in Pakistan, Ayesha Khan, Zonia Yousuf and Sana Naqvi
  • ‘Me Too’ and the ‘List’ – Power Dynamics, Shame, and Accountability in Indian Academia, Adrija Dey
  • Multilevel Responses to Sexual Violence in Schools in West Africa, Jordan J. Steiner and Anne M. Spear
  • Uniting Against the Tides: Filipino ‘Shefarers’ Organising Against Sexual Harassment, Lucia Tangi
  • Disruption and Design: Crowdmapping Young Women’s Experience in Cities, Sophie Tanner, Nicole Kalms, Hayley Cull, Gill Matthewson and Anthony Aisenberg
  • Collective Silence and Accountability for Sexual Harassment in Lebanon, Menaal Munshey
  • Accountability with Teeth, Maha El Said
  • The Institute of Development Studies (IDS) delivers world-class research, learning and teaching that transforms the knowledge, action and leadership needed for more equitable and sustainable development globally.
  • IDS is ranked first in the world for development studies by the QS University Rankings, together with the University of Sussex. We are also ranked best international development policy think tank. See for more information.

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