It is easy to regard this year as a dark one for feminism.
After taking office, Donald Trump’s first act was reinstating the global gag rule which blocks US federal funding to non-government organisations in the Third World that provide abortion counselling or referrals, thus depriving the poorest women of the right to make decisions about their bodies. Globally, women are forced into slavery and subjected to violence. Boko Haram and ISIS use women as spoils of war. Russia has passed laws decriminalising domestic violence. Even in Australia, women’s lives remain blighted by high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault, while a gender pay gap testifies to persistent discrimination.
Yet despite all the bleak news, I believe that feminism is winning many battles and changing many minds. Thanks in large part to social media, women now have tools to change public perception and mobilise around issues with astonishing speed. This gives me hope for the future.
I look with admiration on women who were sexually harassed or assaulted but feel no need to conceal their identity when telling their stories to the media. In Israel, feminists are persuading newspapers to publish sexual assault stories that include an image of the abuser, not one that has the victim hiding her face as if she has reason to be ashamed.
I look with admiration on women who are not willing to be blamed for being a victim and stand brave and tall in front of the abuser. A great example is the 2013 documentary Brave Miss World, which tells the story of Miss Israel, Linor Abargil, who was raped in Milan prior to winning the Miss World competition. In her fight for justice, Linor is not just taking legal action, but also advocating for women to expose their abusers and demand a response from authorities.
As they say, sunlight is the best disinfectant.
Publicity and shaming the attacker may be controversial, but when the legal system fails women such tactics are a logical alternative.
One interesting example of exposing attackers— albeit to a discreet audience— is the Israeli website OneofOne, a secure database listing the names of alleged sexual abusers. The idea is to empower women who may otherwise find themselves the victim of a serial abuser. While the victims are not encouraged to meet, knowing their attackers have a pattern of abuse can strengthen their legal case. At the moment, Tel Aviv nightclub owner Alon Kastiel is awaiting trial on charges of rape and sexual assault after multiple women went public with their complaints.
After California judge Aaron Persky sentenced Brock Turner to only six months in jail in 2016 for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman at Stanford University, saying a longer sentence ‘would have a severe impact on him’, the victim’s 7,200-word letter, which she had read in the courtroom, was published online and went viral. The controversy prompted a new law mandating prison sentences for people who sexually assault unconscious or intoxicated victims, as well as an independent investigation into allegations of judicial bias. (The independent commission found Judge Persky did not abuse his authority or show bias in the sentencing.)
In today’s inter-connected world, it is feasible for women to stop wars and to call snap labour strikes and global protests, such as the women’s marches of January 21.
In Liberia in 2003, for example, women ended a 14-year civil war through non-violent means. Inspired by the Liberian example, Muslim and Jewish women are working hard to stop bloodshed in Israel and Palestine through the Women Wage Peace movement.
Today, on International Women’s Day, women are being urged to down tools, buy local and wear red in solidarity with the global women’s movement. Let’s heed the call.
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