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Journalism students talk #MeToo Movement in India

The #MeToo movement, which was founded in 2006 but gained prominence in 2017 after accusations of sexual assault and harassment against high-profile American celebrities, has since spread throughout the world, led by women who want to stand up against the widespread prevalence of gender-based violence. Spring 2019 Voyagers enrolled in Professor Barry JanesMedia & Society class spent a day in Kerala discussing the impact of the #MeToo movement in India with journalists, activists, and local writers.

Students engaged with a series of speakers in a day-long communications conference hosted by the Center for Public Policy Research, a think-tank that has worked with Semester at Sea students for nearly a decade. The day began with students learning about the origins of the #MeToo movement in India, which began after several Bollywood celebrities came forward with sexual misconduct allegations. The movement has begun to gain traction in India despite the limitations facing a mostly online movement in a country with a still largely rural population.

“We’ve been talking a lot about digitization in this course, especially how social media and technology can impact the way media spreads and how people receive media in general,” said voyager Kasey Thom of Mercer University. “Today was a really good example and power of this phenomenon. I think there is a lot of value in understanding the process of how digital media can impact our future.”

Surya Joseph of the Institute of Rural Development was one of the first female speakers. She explained that every 20 minutes, a woman in India reports being raped. But that figure does not include non-reported incidents, which could be five to ten times higher in a country of over 500 million women. She described how the discussion of #MeToo and larger gender issues has “not been widely accepted by men in India. The reaction is often defensive and includes mocking and victim blaming.” She also described how ingrained concepts of appropriate male behavior and social stigmas in Indian culture hinder the widespread adoption of the movement.

The next speaker, Anisha Cherian, founded Raising Our Voices in 2017 as a “platform for voices of women and men who refuse to live with misogyny and gender imbalance in our culture and society.” The NGO organized Kerala’s first gender solidarity march under the #MeToo banner in October 2017, which they hope will continue to gain traction and attract more supporters.

University of Cincinnati student Sedona Newman was inspired by the potential of this movement in India.

“I know that they are just getting started on their work organizing the #MeToo movement here, and it is just starting to take off, but the work they are doing is super important,” Newman said. “If they keep at it, I think it will make a difference in the lives of a lot of women, so it was interesting to see and hear about it at the beginning of their organizing.”

The day ended with a visit to the office of the Times of India, one of the largest circulated newspapers in the country. Voyagers spoke to journalists who cover gender stories in Kerala, and they explained how media sources have struggled to adapt to the digital age and how print media is still the primary income-generating source for media companies in India. That presents a challenge when covering the largely online #MeToo movement.

Like much of the world, the effects of the #MeToo movement in India are just starting to be felt, but some voyagers expressed their optimism after speaking with so many dedicated journalists and activists on the ground.

“Meeting women who work in the #MeToo movement was the most impactful part of the day for me,” said Emily Manda of Cabrini College. “I have never been involved with activism so it was super interesting to hear about their work. It was powerful to hear them speak on behalf of so many women.”

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