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Of Vulnerability and Power

My heart sinks a little for every story that I read on #MeToo in India. Pain, disgust, disbelief and so many other emotions arise. But there is one universal thought that is running through a lot of us.

That this is long overdue.

#MeToo is giving our collective outrage a channel because the systems to protect women and address the issues when they occurred have failed. Because workplaces failed to have legal and cultural setups, where women can report such matters freely without negative repercussions. Because even the expectation of such systems in so many industries is absent. Because the fear of being shunned as a “troublemaker” and losing work opportunities is so real, that many chose to suffer in silence.

Ask any woman who has been out in the world in any capacity, she knows the fear. Even if she hasn’t been a victim of sexual abuse. For every story we read, we know that so many more exist that are not being told. For every story that has been told, there are so many of us who recount the times we dodged a similar situation. How we avoided that one car ride together or a seemingly harmless offer to be dropped back home. How we tried to make ourselves less noticeable even when we had things to say about issues at work.

So many of us who lived in the fearful shadow to avoid the dread of being labeled a certain ‘type’ of woman. Troublesome. Too bold. Too ambitious.

The #MeToo movement has garnered solidarity because so many of us can resonate with it. Yes, perhaps it is not a perfect way. There are those who are using the movement for agendas — personal or political. Yes, it has so far been restricted to telling tales of English speaking articulate women. Whatever your opinion is, it is clear if there ever is a wake-up call, this is it.

It’s time. It’s time to have committees at workplaces investigate such matters and bring them to the rightful result. To cultivate an ecosystem where victims of harassment are encouraged to speak up and are listened to — and appropriate action is taken. To have allies who speak up on your behalf when your voice isn’t heard. To have a zero tolerance policy for any form of sexual harassment.

It is no coincidence that most of these abuse situations occurred when the perpetrator was in a position of power. The victim may have felt threatened with the influence of the person, in addition to social stigma. It is time to empower young girls who will be out in the world. It is on parents, teachers, managers and leaders of organizations — really anybody who cares to reinforce that women deserve to be there and be treated with respect. That building a career and being financially independent are not things we need permission to do.

It’s time to amplify one another’s strength and know that:

We don’t owe anybody anything, not even silence.

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