Fed up by harassment, Nepali women are going online to share their #MeToo stories
KATHAMANDU (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) - As more Nepali women gradually take to social media to describe their stories, some say it is entirely up to the survivors to decide if, when, and how to share their experiences—and control their own narratives.
As incidents of sexual harassment and misconduct against men in positions of power continue to proliferate across neighbouring India, women in Nepal have also started speaking out about their experiences over social media.
The #MeToo movement, which began last year in the United States with reports of rape and gross sexual misconduct against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, arrived in India with rekindling of actor Tanushree Dutta’s allegations of sexual harassment against Nana Patekar and journalist Rituparna Chatterjee’s article collating reports from women in the Indian media regarding harassment and misconduct.
Ever since #MeToo landed in India, many had hoped that the movement would hop the border into Nepal and lead to the exposure of predators in powerful positions. However, most women sharing their #MeToo stories in Nepal have largely refrained from naming and shaming the perpetrators and instead, centred around making public the incidents they went through and expressing solidarity with other women.
On October 10, Kathmandu-based journalist Subina Shrestha shared her story on Twitter. “Millenium, Nagarkot. I was an MC. The youth minister then tried to put his hand on my thigh that evening. That’s called sexual harassment,” she wrote. Shrestha further called out the minister’s “audacity” at having harassed her on the heels of being questioned over similar harassment claims by another woman. Shrestha refrained from naming the perpetrator.
Similar tweets have emerged from other women, who have outlined incidents of harassment but have refrained from directly naming the men involved. On October 7, theatre artist Akanchha Karki wrote: “A middle-aged pervert feels he is entitled to the 'love' of someone half his age, just because he cast her in a play. Has the audacity to harass her, kiss her in the name of exercise, say she gave him 'signals'. Tells her to #gotohell after she calls him old and sick.”
As more Nepali women gradually take to social media to describe their stories, some say it is entirely up to the survivors to decide if, when, and how to share their experiences—and control their own narratives.
“Naming/shaming publicly is entirely the victim’s choice. We cannot and must not bully victim and his/her voice. What matters is addressing this culture of impunity and allowance of male transgression,” tweeted Tejshree Thapa, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “One needs to give women the time and the choice to name or not name,” wrote Shrestha.
The #MeToo movement has largely been about exposing the kinds of behaviour that men have long considered “harmless” and “natural” even as they made women deeply uncomfortable. This pervasive culture points to how patriarchal frames of behaviour remain deeply rooted in Nepal’s professional sphere, where men feel emboldened to take gross liberties with female colleagues without fear of consequence.
The result is the creation of an environment where discomfort and fear are the norms for women. “It’s not the odd working hours or that women look for easy jobs, it’s the environment men create that makes it uncomfortable for women in newsrooms. The scrutiny women go through has nothing to do with her work but how she looks, what she wears, who she talks to,” tweeted Meena Kaini, a former journalist.
Reports have also begun to appear in some newspapers regarding the extent of harassment and abuse, as women and young girls speak out, albeit hesitatingly. While much of #MeToo might be limited to social media and urban centres, these tentative reports are a testament to rising consciousness among women, regardless of socio-political status, that sexual misconduct will not be tolerated and no longer stay hidden.
Few are surprised that Kathmandu’s professional spheres are not friendly towards women, given the country’s deeply conservative and patriarchal roots, manifested in unequal legal provisions regarding the granting of citizenship to children and with cases of rape and gender-based violence across the country. Many, however, have expressed hope that this new reckoning will lead to changes in men’s behaviour and in how businesses operate.
Nepal’s Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Prevention Act 2015 envisions both an internal and external complaint mechanism for victims of harassment and misconduct. However, as many on Twitter have pointed out, these complaint mechanisms are all-too-often headed by men. Furthermore, women do not believe that complaints are encouraged and that even when they do, those complaints will be kept confidential and that something tangible will come out of it.
“If media houses in #Nepal are serious abt helping women remain journalists, start by creating stringent anti-harassment regulations n implement them,” Kaini wrote, calling out newsrooms, particularly Kantipur Publications, which publishes this newspaper. “Better still, create a department for it and let a woman lead it.”