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The hashtags #metoo/#balancetonporc seized social media in October as hundreds of thousands of people shared stories of sexual harassment and violence.
The #metoo movement didn’t result in outings of high-profile individuals in Luxembourg, as it did in the US. However, it gave voice to hundreds of women: the hashtags along with #echoch (the Luxembourgish equivalent) were used 1,301 times from 15 October to 15 November, according to social media analytics platform Talkwalker.
“With the #metoo campaign, people are starting to be aware that what is happening is not ‘normal’, that touching someone without consent is not a compliment and most important of all, that it is a crime punishable by law,” Ricky and Milena of Luxembourg empowerment initiative XXyz Luxembourg told Delano.
Anik Raskin of Luxembourg’s national women’s council (CNFL) meanwhile, said the movement had helped some women realise it was not their fault if they had been attacked. “It enables victims to be aware that it is a widespread phenomenon and that they are not ‘slightly to blame’ for what happened to them,” she said.
Tip of the iceberg
It also resulted in the creation of online communities such as the closed Facebook group #echoch (Luxembourgish for “me too”). Started by and for women working in the arts and multimedia in Luxembourg, it enabled members to post their #metoo experiences in a more intimate group.
One could argue that as a result participants were less likely to censor their posts and therefore gained more from the experience. But we should not assume that writing about one’s trauma can be cathartic or empowering.
It is clear that many women chose not to post, as was the case for Sara, a Luxembourger. “I chose not to post my story because it would have upset me way too much. Some of the stories even set me off.”
There is little doubt the problem extends deeper than the experiences posted online. Last year, Luxembourg had the highest number of rapes (106) and indecent assaults (135) ever recorded. And incidents can be found across society.
At the end of November, RTL reported that a woman working for Vianden commune was bombarded with pornography from co-workers. In September, it came to light that a man who systematically filmed up women’s skirts on buses was released without charge because of a loophole in the law.
If the movement has been empowering for some, its effectiveness as a deterrent is debatable. “By denouncing these acts, it shows men that there are consequences to their actions,” Raskin says. It is perhaps true in the US with high-profile people being named and shamed. Luxembourg, however, has a tradition of not publicly identifying convicted criminals (unless it is an appeal for information) in the media because of the size of the country.
That hardly helps victims of sexual assault to stick their heads above the parapet to name and shame. If Luxembourg has its own Harvey Weinsteins, and satirical media collective Richtung 22 recently confirmed that it does in the film industry, this tradition of anonymity could explain why the impact has resulted in few, if any, criminal charges there.
Photo: Mike Zenari, the CNFL's Anik Raskin, pictured, says #metoo helped women who are victims to stop blaming themselves
A number of people have also questioned whether the movement impacted men’s views and behaviour toward women at all. “Those who should be ashamed of themselves couldn’t care less about a bunch of women posting comfortably from their homes ‘me too’,” Oana, a blogger living in Luxembourg, wrote recently.
Responding to a call on social media for feedback, Brian echoed these sentiments. “I didn’t hear any men talking about it and now, I wonder if the ‘metoo’ women (mostly) just feel more vulnerable than before and disappointed that nothing has really changed.”
Another hashtag, #HowIWillChange, was started as a way to encourage men to support women who have been assaulted or harassed. It was posted six times on social media in Luxembourg from 15 October to 15 November, according to Talkwalker, and those six times were within the same frame.
One male resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said while he supported exposing perpetrators of sexual violence, the campaign had raised some grey areas about sexual equality and gender oppression. “I’m definitely more cautious. Should I hold the door for a woman? Or does that suggest I think the woman is weak?” he said.
What has been the impact?
Andrée Birnbaum, director of Femmes en Détresse, a support group for women, said her teams had not recorded an increase in reports from victims. One could argue it is too early to gauge the impact of the #metoo movement on Luxembourg.
While it is no revolution, there is a feeling it has provoked a reflection on being a woman in today’s society and, thanks to social media, it has reached more people than any awareness-raising campaign has for years.
“I know the fight will not be over any time soon, but I feel like there has been a shift. We need to work towards shifting in the right direction,” Milena said.
Raskin agrees Luxembourg should use the momentum of the movement to bring focused change. “I think a strengthening of the law, of course, but we also need to educate people further about equality and regularly raise awareness about the subject.”
The timing of the movement’s rise, shortly before UN’s international day for the elimination of violence against women on 25 November, meant it won’t be forgotten just yet.
This year, Zonta International Luxembourg mobilised organisations to host events in Luxembourg, including a flash mob, self-defence classes and film screenings. XXyz, meanwhile, organised a “reclaim the night” march against sexism, sexual harassment and sexual violence as well as a concert. “Our actions are complementary and in the end the most important is to show that we will not be silenced,” Ricky and Milena said.