#Metoo isn’t just about sexual harassment and violence, although that was the catalyst for the movement.
In a deeper way, #Metoo is about women and girls finding their voice to talk openly about their reality and their experiences, overcoming the fear of being shamed or blamed for the things that happened to us.
Actual violence and the threat of violence still prevents women from having full participation in public and decision-making spaces.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) requires most of the development projects it finances to go through a consultation process, where beneficiaries and affected communities have the opportunity to ask for changes to the project, express concerns or objections, and ultimately have some influence over the project. Women and men should be included equally in this process.
The problem is that these discussions take place in public spaces where women have been discouraged from participating, either implicitly or explicitly, for many generations.
During the women’s suffrage movement in the United States, women spoke out in public for their own right to have a voice and vote in elections. As a result, they were beaten, arrested, publicly shamed, and estranged from their families. These are the violent repercussions they faced simply for using their voice.
Have you ever been to a meeting where only men are talking, and the women’s voices are ignored or talked over? #Metoo. Powerful women I look up to say they still have to face these situations constantly and can sense that women don’t feel safe and included in meetings.
I am an anthropologist and a gender specialist, and have worked on projects where I notice the women staying in the back, not sharing their experiences or opinion, until a moderator explicitly opened a space for only women to speak. I have been to public meetings where every time I asked a simple question to a woman present, a man interjected to answer on her behalf, and so the only way I could find out her opinion was by arranging to talk to her one on one AFTER the public meeting was finished.
If you are holding a consultation event, I recommend using the following ten measures to make sure you include women in the discussion:
Before the consultation event, emphasize principles of respect, non-judgment, listening to understand, and inclusiveness. EVERYONE is worthy to share their experiences, and will be respected, valued and honored even if there are disagreements.
Create a space exclusively for women and girls to share their views.
Encourage women to bring their children to consultation events and make accommodations for the children: for example, a caregiver to watch all the children, a room to breastfeed even if just make-shift (turn a room not made for this purpose into a space that will meet breastfeeding women’s needs).
Hire a facilitator, preferably a woman, who will be skillful in establishing trust with women and girls, listen to and validate their opinions without judgment or shame, and get them talking, feeling heard and appreciated.
Do NOT demand that women or a particular woman answer a question if they are not inclined to respond. It is a sure way to destroy trust and discourage women from participating.
Offering toys for children, or for adults to hold while they talk can be a way to make sharing less scary.
Use technology to give feedback confidentially, such as anonymous polls during the public event or answering questions anonymously on a mobile device.
Hold confidential interviews with women (in spaces completely away from where others can hear, preferably in a room with closed door) where feedback will be documented but not linked to particular individuals.
Make sure there are at least 25-50% or more women as part of the organization and leadership of the event. Having a woman as facilitator or to introduce the project is a powerful and subconscious cue to women that they have a place in this public event.
Talk about gender roles openly as a way to identify old-fashioned views – let men and women share what they learned about what women should do and what men should do, and how they feel about that.
Thanks to #Metoo and decades of gender equality activism, women are reclaiming their voices and their place at the table of decision-making and political spaces.
You have the power to be part of this transformation, by creating a safe and inclusive environment for women and girls to truly be part of consultations, or any meeting, event or discussion.