Domestic Workers and the #MeToo Movement

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In 2006, activist, Tarana Burke, began using ‘Me Too’ on MySpace to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse and assault on African-American women. Fast-forward to October 2017, when actress, Alyssa Milano, encouraged women to use #MeToo on Twitter if they had ever experienced sexual abuse. This new wave of ‘Me Too’ began after multiple allegationa of sexual harassment and assault came out against movie producer, Harvey Weinstein. #MeToo seemed to be concentrated in Hollywood but expanded globally and could be seen across multiple social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram. Women and men from all over the world began sharing their stories of sexual harassment and assault. Even though #MeToo has become this global phenomenon, it has very much been confined to the middle and upper classes of society. But, many vulnerable groups are taking this chance, taking #MeToo to tell their stories and to have their voices heard. “One of the most powerful things about #MeToo has been its ability to allow people to expand the conversation beyond celebrities. The reality of seeing everyday people — friends, neighbours, co-workers, family — disclosing their various experiences with sexual violence has been jarring for many and enlightening for most.1

blog2 However, though we would like to make these women visible, there are many who want to remain invisible and under the radar. But, this does not mean that they should still suffer. If there are enough women to speak out, this can help those who want to stay in the shadows. As Ai-jen Poo puts it; “what is so powerful about this movement is the way that we are speaking to each other, like a call and response between women across so many different experiences and communities and industries. We are saying to each other: I see you. You’re not alone. I’m here.” Domestic workers from all over are saying #MeToo, from the United states to Tanzania to the United Arab Emirates. But, what about India?

In India, the #MeToo movement has mainly had an impact among formal workers and students of elite colleges, "the #MeToo campaign has resonated with the educated middle-class women who are employed, who dare to speak, and who are fighting for their space and are active on social media"3 , while the women of lower castes remain invisible. There are an estimated 4.2million domestic workers in India, 80% of which are women, and they are extremely vulnerable to acts of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment in the workplace is one of the most under reported forms of violence against women. ‘Quid pro quo’ situations of sexual harassment are common and continuous occurrences for domestic workers, however, they tend to keep quiet about their experiences out of fear of losing their jobs and further victimization. India has made significant moves to combat sexual harassment. In 1998, the Supreme Court of India passed Vishaka Guidelines and in 2013, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act was implemented. However, acts of sexual harassment at the workplace have not ceased. Can the #MeToo Movement work for domestic workers in India?

Domestic workers are quite unlikely to have access to social media, therefore, would be unaware as to what the #MeToo movement is. From my research into this topic, the women I have talked to are not familiar with #MeToo, even though they do have access to social media. Also, when the topic of sexual harassment was brought up, it was shut down quite quickly by the women, with many responses like ‘it doesn’t happen’ or ‘I don’t know what it is’. But the face is, everyone women knows what sexual harassment is. But, I think by informing the domestic workers of the #MeToo movement, informing them that they are not alone, we could hear their struggles and stories and do so with a unified voice that can reach the authorities for firmer action to be taken. In India, this could mean ensuring that every district has a Local Complaints Committee and conforms to the mandates of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013. Provide a safe space for these women to report the harassment and assault afflicted on them, where appropriate and just action can be taken. #MeToo has gained traction and has caused a ripple effect globally. In the Unites States, the Time’s Up initiative was set up in response to the #MeToo Movement and it aims to fight sexual violence and harassment in the workplace through lobbying and providing funding to victims to get legal help if they cannot afford it. This could become a reality for other places around the world, including India.

However, it is important to question whether #MeToo is enough to make a difference for these women. Would it be more beneficial for domestic workers in India to develop their own campaign for significant changes to be made? What is evident, is that these women need a platform but who is going to give it to them?

On International Domestic Workers’ Day 2018, we should all come together to stand up for domestic workers and to empower, not only them, but all women so that a way can be paved in India and a new slogan can be reiterated, where we say ‘Not Any Woman’.

1. Tarana Burke, founder of ‘Me Too’, from her article: #MeToo was started for black and brown women and girls. They’re still being ignored: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/11/09/the-waitress-who-works-in-the-diner-needs-to-know-that-the-issue-of-sexual-harassment-is-about-her-too/?utm_term=.2504631dd12e
2. Said by Ai-jen Poo, who is the executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance in the United States.
3. India’s #MeToo moment is still about the struggle to survive. The Sunday Morning Herald: https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/india-s-metoo-moment-is-still-about-the-struggle-to-survive-20180330-p4z750.html

 

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