Sexual and gender-based violence has finally been afforded global widespread attention as an egregious and enduring harm that warrants sustained, political action. Indeed, the 2018 Nobel peace Prize, awarded to Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad “for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict”, is a global and high policy recognition of the importance of preventing and redressing the harms caused by sexual violence in wartime. This prize, however, reflects not only the long-standing efforts of women’s groups world-wide, as well as scholars and activists that pay particular attention to conflict-related sexual violence. It also reflects the growing global #MeToo movement, which holds a spotlight on the persistent and ubiquitous instances of such harm in everyday public spaces, as well as in the home, the workplace, schools, etc. in peacetime settings as well as those that trouble any neat distinction between peace and war. Initially established by activist Tarana Burke in 2006, the global wave of devastating testimonies that followed in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal in 2017 put the #MeToo movement firmly on the map of public awareness world-wide. It has effectively drawn attention to the prevalent impunity with which perpetrators of sexual and gender based violence have been able to act, and has demanded that they be held accountable. These demands have placed in high relief the faulty workings of legal systems that flounder in their remit to legally counteract and address such harms. Perhaps most importantly, the #MeToo movement has created a space in which victim/survivors of sexual and gender-based violence can tell their stories and find comfort and recognition in solidarity and in a sense that individually experienced harms resonate with those also experienced by others (see e.g. Olsson).
While the #MeToo movement has been vastly successful in putting the question of sexual and gender-based violence on the global policy agenda as well as on the agenda in both public and private institutions, and among the general public, this success is neither complete nor without cause for heeding caution (see e.g. Strand). The current global political climate is characterized, for instance, by both the growing movement to resist the normalization of sexual violence and the renewed persistence of this very normalization; by the increasing purchase of the global and local movements to recognize and address the harms of sexual violence in all of its forms, and by backlash against these movements; by a recognition in policy and academic spheres of the many victims/survivors of sexual violence (including men and boys), and by the continuation of this form of violence; by calls to shortcut due process and the cumbersome and unjust legal mechanisms that are already in place through naming and shaming, and by the slippery slopes that such shortcuts might—and already do—lead us down, whereby injustices are produced in the name of justice. The salience of the #MeToo movement in this political conjuncture also raises questions about whose experiences, stories, workplaces, etc. matter—questions that are augmented by the individualized, celebrity/hero(ine)-villain focused landscape that is reproduced through its global appeal in the media (see e.g. Raja).
Clearly, the #MeToo movement is timely and welcome; it represents both a rupture that shows us what is not working and a space for refusing to be silenced and for healing. Its urgent call for action, however, also warns us that we must pause and reflect. This blog thread is one such space for reflection. The following posts address many of the questions raised here, and pose many more.
Over the next several weeks, BlogalStudies will post several contributions to this discussion including:
#MeToo and Swedish Military, Sanna Strand, University of Gothenburg, 11 February
#MeToo_Academic Fieldwork, Elizabeth Olsson, University of Gothenburg, 18 February
India’s #MeToo Movement: A challenge to intersectional feminism, Sinduja Raja, University of Denver, 25 February
BlogalStudies will complete the BlogFest with at least one surprise post in March.
Maria Stern is a professor of peace and development research at the School of Global Studies. Her research interests include critical security studies; feminist theory; security-development; and militarism and war. Together with Maria Eriksson Baaz, she has been researching sexual and gender-based violence for over 15 years. Her publications on the subject matter include:
'Curious erasures: the sexual in wartime sexual violence’ International Feminist Journal of Politics, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14616742.2018.1459197
Sexual Violence Against Men in Global Politics (https://www.routledge.com/Sexual-Violence-Against-Men-in-Global-Politics/Zalewski-Drumond-Prugl-Stern/p/book/9781138209909)
Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War? (https://uu.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1148245/FULLTEXT01.pdf)