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How the #MeToo movement has fallen short

"Real change requires not only political will, it requires a moral and conscious one as well," says Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International.
Image: MeToo march
Women who are survivors of sexual harassment, assault and abuse and their supporters stage a #MeToo march in Hollywood on Nov. 12, 2017.Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images file

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, it’s important to look at the changes ushered in by the recent #MeToo movement and what still needs to happen to empower young girls and women so they are able to reach their full potential without fear of sexual harassment or abuse.

Though many influential men who abused their power were brought down, little change has happened to the culture that nurtured them and the institutions that supported them. Women and men would be remiss to stop the conversation at only the firing of the men that have been #MeToo’d.

For real change to happen we all need to be engaged in a thoughtful process centered around reflections, questions and explorations on how to productively move forward. What we need is a truth and reconciliation process between women and men, one in which we can collectively understand the genuine grievances by women and how to go about authentic change for a healthier and more respectful dynamic between women and men in the future.

What is happening at the moment seems to be small basic changes. For example, many meetings in Hollywood shifted from hotel rooms to conference rooms. And women may say there is less unwanted touching in the workplace. But it also seems like a survival-of-the-fittest mentality rather than fundamental change in terms of how we address gender inequality.

Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International.
Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International.

Some of men who got caught up in #MeToo disappeared, some are forcing their way back to the public and many others just went on about their business declaring their avoidance of women as the way to go. According to a recent Bloomberg article, the new informal rules on Wall Street is “avoid women at all cost.”

Other studies show that men are reluctant to mentor and hire women. And women got fewer leadership positions in the last year. Nothing about that is equivalent to real and fundamental change.

Real change requires not only political will, it requires a moral and conscious one as well.

Change needs courage: the courage to pay women equally, the courage to fully include women in leadership positions, the courage to have the uncomfortable conversation of what may not be working in the workplace, the courage to change behavior and laws so that vulnerable women, such as waitresses who depend on tips, are protected rather than ignored, and the courage to show remorse by not only giving legally drafted apologies but showing actual actions that can lead to repair and healing.

Lots of changes still need to happen so future generations of women have a chance at a better and more equal and respectful world. Courage is not only required by men, it is also required by the entire society and that includes women.

We first need to show more support to the women who have courageously spoken up. If they are not famous, they often tend to be forgotten. Many women who have spoken up about sexual harassment talk about how their voice was temporarily celebrated, but eventually ignored. Beyond the emotional consequences on their lives and well-being, many women affected by #MeToo are having a hard time getting hired again. Their identities have shifted from their professional capacity to merely being victims. And the lower they are in the social and economic strata, the more likely they are to be forgotten. They need to be supported rather than feared and ignored. Their healing is part of everyone’s healing.

Redemption is something that has been brought up often these days. I myself have been engaged in many conversations with women from various sectors about the issue. And if I am to summarize what I have been hearing it is that indeed there is room for redemption, but it needs to be seen in actions and not in words. That means a show of redemption by donating, volunteering, sharing power, showing vulnerability and actually contributing to make equality for women real.

I have worked in various conflict zones most of my life and what I learned is that hatred and fear not only ravage countries, it also chips away at everyone’s humanity. I also learned that for real change to take place, those who have oppressed others need to show up, tell their truth and ask for forgiveness without being attached to outcome. And that those who have been victimized have a leadership role in showing the path for redemption by explaining what restorative justice means for them and allowing for those who want to genuinely show remorse to walk that path forward. Gender justice have not taken place yet in America nor in many parts of the world. There is much for all of us to do to make that a reality in our present and our future.

Zainab Salbi is the host of "Through Her Eyes" on Yahoo News, founder of Women for Women International and author of "Freedom is an Inside Job."