‘The backlash is coming’: The global wave of #MeToo

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements might’ve found their start in Hollywood, but they certainly didn’t end there. Millions of women around the world have used the hashtags as a rallying cry, exposing sexual abuse and harassment, building communities around advocacy, and challenging repressive laws and power structures.

For many women, the movement goes beyond social media: It’s about lasting change through action.

To mark International Women’s Day, March 8, we asked five Washington Post correspondents to find women who are taking steps to empower other women and bring real change to their communities.

Oshrat Kotler, Israel

An Israeli journalist’s #MeToo revelation caused a ‘tsunami.’ Now she’s being sued.

TEL AVIV — When Oshrat Kotler, a senior editor and anchorperson at Israel’s Channel 10 news, recalled during a live broadcast an indecent proposal she received as a young journalist two decades ago, it caused what she calls a “tsunami.”

Now, the 52-year-old veteran journalist is being sued by the man she spoke out against.

In Israel, you take a lot of risks standing up.
Oshrat Kotler

Her revelation came during a panel discussion in November about the Hollywood-led #MeToo campaign. Kotler said Alex Gilady, president of broadcasting company Keshet, had invited her to dinner and told her, “Keep the rest of your night free” in a phone call after a job interview.

When she turned him down, saying she was married, she said he told her: “What’s the connection? Don’t you know how women advance in Hollywood?”

“I said, ‘I know, and, obviously, I will not progress in my career because I have no intention of going with you.’ And the rest is history,” Kotler said on live television.

Her accusation spurred other women to speak out against other powerful men in Israeli society, and it turned attention from Hollywood to Israel. At least four women came forward with similar claims against Gilady. Two women accused him of rape.

A few days after Kotler’s accusation, Gilady announced he was “stepping aside.” But in January he filed a $600,000 lawsuit against Kotler and Neri Livneh, a journalist with Israeli newspaper Haaretz. He accused them of “baseless slander” and said they had taken advantage of the #MeToo campaign for their own benefit.

In an interview, the first since her disclosure, Kotler said she was excited when Gilady had called her after her job interview with him.

“I remember my husband next to me,” she said. “I was waving and miming to him that Alex was on the line, that a door had finally opened, I was so excited. Then slowly, slowly I understood what was going on. I felt deflated, so disappointed.”

Story by Ruth Eglash. Video by Hilla Medalia and Joyce Lee

Stella Creasy, Britain

This British politician wants less hashtag, more action on equality

LONDON — Stella Creasy is a British politician who leans in.

On women’s rights, she wants more action, less hashtag. Yes, the sex scandals in Parliament, the pay rows at the BBC, the #MeToo movement in Britain have all offered up eye-popping evidence of gender inequalities. But she’s not convinced Britain is on the brink of big change — yet.

You have to fight every single day. You have to fight for things; you have to have action.
Stella Creasy

“People keep asking me, ‘Is 2018 going to be the moment?’ and I’m like, ‘Ask me in 2019,’ ” she said in an interview at London’s Royal Albert Hall, the venue for the 2018 BAFTAs, where many British actresses wore black to show support for equality.

The looming question for Creasy, a member of Parliament for the opposition Labour Party, is how people translate an awareness of a problem into action.

For Creasy, 40, it means doubling down on the many campaigns listed on a side of her office she has dubbed the Wall of Injustices. These include offering professional support for victims of sexual abuse and introducing mandatory classes on sexual consent in schools. “We teach our children about composting and calculus but not consent,” Creasy said.

Creasy said her parents are feminists who instilled in her at a young age a desire to take action. When she would proclaim the world was unfair, “they would say, ‘Okay, what are you going to do about it?’ ”

After tweeting #MeToo, her attention has turned to making legal representation more accessible for victims of harassment more.

“You have to do more than use a hashtag,” she said.

She does that, too, however. Creasy is a prolific tweeter and like many female British politicians, she’s no stranger to sexist abuse online. When she supported a successful campaign for Jane Austen to appear on a bank note, she was threatened with rape. One of her Twitter trolls was sent to jail.

Speaking out on women’s issues wasn’t always welcomed by her colleagues, either.

“When I first started doing work on women’s rights, various politicians, male and female, said, ‘I wouldn’t do too much of this, it’s career suicide,’ and I was like, ‘That’s like a red rag to a bull,’ ” she said. “I’m doing this for everyone. Equality is good for everyone.”

Story by Karla Adam. Photo by Laura Pannack


Jun Yamamoto, Japan

She helped bring about major changes to Japan’s sex crime laws. But she’s not done yet.

TOKYO — In Japan, victims of sexual violence rarely speak out. Even if people believe them — often a big if — prosecutions are difficult and punishments are light.

But Jun Yamamoto has been speaking out: about the sexual abuse she endured as a teenager and about the sexual violence that women across Japan endure in silence.

We need to change this system where victims can’t speak out.
Jun Yamamoto

“We need to change this system where victims can’t speak out and aren’t protected, and where perpetrators aren’t punished. It just leads to more violence,” said Yamamoto, who is 44 and founded an organization called Spring to advocate for victims of sexual violence.

From the age of 13, Yamamoto says, she was molested by her father. But she didn’t tell her mother about it until after her parents separated, when she was 21. Her mother was shocked, and the level of shock underscored to Yamamoto just how “unimaginable and awful” the situation was. Her father denied the allegations when her mother confronted him, and Yamamoto became estranged from him. Three years ago, she discovered he had died.

For years, she kept her story to herself.

Until 2010, that is. Then, inspired by the few other women speaking publicly, she started speaking at meetings about sexual violence. She wrote a book called “I Lost Myself at Age 13: The Reality of Living with Sexual Violence.” And she started pushing for legal change.

Japan’s sex crime laws dated back to 1907. Victims had to press charges for the perpetrator to be prosecuted. Sentences were light: as little as three years in prison, often suspended.

Thanks to efforts spearheaded by advocates including Yamamoto, the Japanese parliament revised the laws last summer, increasing the minimum sentence for rape to five years and broadening the definition of rape.

Sexual violence received more media attention because the parliament had acted. Old taboos began to break. Police became more active.

“I think our whole society is slowly moving in the direction that we need to go in, to improve support for victims,” Yamamoto said.

The law still does not recognize cases where girls older than 13 are forced into sex as rape, unless it is also accompanied by assault or threats. And the statute of limitations is too short to allow for victims to speak out later about abuse they suffered as children.

Yamamoto has plenty of work to do.

Story by Yuki Oda. Photo by Shiho Fukada

Canan Arin, Turkey

In Turkey, no #MeToo movement, but one woman’s tireless fight for women’s rights

ISTANBUL — It was a cold February morning in Istanbul and Canan Arin, prominent lawyer and women’s rights activist, was where she is most comfortable: protesting injustice outside the city’s main courthouse.

Arin, 75, has spent most of her life fighting for Turkey’s most vulnerable, including victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

I realized that we are not equal, that we have never been equal.
Canan Arin

In Turkey’s patriarchal society, the recent global campaign against sexual harassment never really resonated — something Arin blames on the erosion of Turkish women’s rights over the past decade.

When we speak up, she said, the government “says we are lying. They don’t care.”

“It’s good to bring [these issues] up in the international arena,” she said. But the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “doesn’t care what anyone says internationally.”

That’s what makes Arin’s work, which has spanned decades, so important, she said. Amid a government crackdown on opponents, the rule of law has deteriorated here, and women’s issues are often the first to be ignored.

“Every day, it is getting worse and worse and worse,” she said. “I come from a generation that believed women and men are equal before the law. But I realized that we are not equal, that we have never been equal.”

Arin founded one of Turkey’s first women’s shelters, the Purple Roof Women’s Foundation, in 1990. And she has also helped reform parts of the Turkish penal code, which she said took “a feudal approach to women.”

Her advocacy has also put her in the crosshairs, and prosecutors have charged her with slander against Turkish officials, as well as the prophet Muhammad. But she remains undeterred.

When asked how long she would continue her work, she responded: “Until I die.”

Story by Erin Cunningham. Photo by Zeynep Karatas

Raya Sarkar, India

U.S. media was shaken by a list of bad men. In South Asia, a law student took aim at academia.

DELHI, India — Raya Sarkar was reading the news about the women’s movement sweeping the world in October when she decided to make a list of academics in South Asia accused of harassment and post it to Facebook.

I wish that women in the future don’t have to go through this abuse anymore.
Raya Sarkar

Sarkar, a 24-year-old Singaporean national of Indian origin, had seen sexual harassment trivialized and buried while she was studying in India; a friend of hers had been asked to “own up if you’re lying” when she had reported harassment on campus.

Sarkar put out a message on Facebook asking women to submit their experiences if they had been harassed by academics. More than 100 women sent her messages; many had emails and text messages to back up their stories. Sarkar compiled a list of about 70 academics, against whom, she felt, allegations were strong.

The list went viral. It was shared hundreds of times, creating a storm in India and South Asia’s academic world. It named prominent scholars, many of whom denied the allegations. One of them, Partha Chatterjee, wrote a column saying he couldn’t respond to the allegation because the list hadn’t given enough detail about the incident.

“It angered a lot of people. It was compared to a media trial,” Sarkar said. “But there were also people saying this was the civil disobedience that was required when victims of sexual harassment feel that the courts and redressal systems failed.”

The furor over the list came and went quickly. But Sarkar says it helped prompt a conversation in India about how to deal with campus harassment.

“There has been a lot of dialogue about how redressal systems don’t work,” she said. “On a structural level, debates are taking place. I’m glad I could be a part of that.”

Story by Vidhi Doshi. Video by Maya Craig and Sarah Parnass
Credits: Story by Ruth Eglash, Karla Adam, Yuki Oda, Erin Cunningham and Vidhi Doshi.