Speakers discuss the new book, Awakening: #MeToo and the Global Fight for Women’s Rights. Since 2017, millions have joined the global movement known as #MeToo, catalyzing an unprecedented wave of women’s activism powered by technology that reaches across borders, races, religions, and economic divides. Awakening is the first book to capture the global impact of this breakthrough movement. Bringing together political analysis and inspiring personal stories from women in seven countries—Brazil, China, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sweden, and Tunisia—Awakening takes readers to the front lines of a networked movement that’s fundamentally shifting how women organize for their own equality.
The CFR Fellows’ Book Launch series highlights new books by CFR fellows.
O’NEIL: Great. Well, thank you very much and welcome, everyone, to CFR’s Fellow’s Book Launch. And we are here to talk about and to celebrate this book, Awakening: #MeToo and the Global Fight for Women’s Rights. I am Shannon O’Neil. I am the deputy director of studies here at CFR, as well as the Nelson and David Senior fellow for Latin American studies. And it is my privilege to preside over this meeting.
And I will be joined—I am joined right now by two newly-minted authors. And we will be joined by a third illustrious panelist when she gets out of traffic in Nigeria. So we’ll see here in just a couple of minutes. But let me use this first couple of minutes to introduce our panelists. You have their full bios, which you got with the invitation, but let me just give you the highlights of each and then we will begin the discussion.
So Rachel Vogelstein, known to many of you. Rachel is the Douglas Dillon senior fellow and the director of the Women and Foreign Policy here at CFR. She is also a professor gender and U.S. foreign policy at Georgetown Law. Previously, before she joined CFR, she was a senior advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on global women’s issues. And she followed the former secretary of state to the Clinton foundation, where she was the director of women and girls’ programs. She is an attorney by training and had long been focused on these issues of gender equality.
Next, I’ll turn to Meighan Stone. Meighan too is part of the CFR family. She’s an adjunct fellow here in the Women and Foreign Policy Program. And she joined us after serving as an entrepreneurship fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School at the Shorenstein Center. And from 2014 to 2017, she was the president of the Malala Fund. So she worked with the founder and the Nobel Prize winner to empower girls globally as part of that organization.
And then our final panelist, who is on her way, who we’ll turn to once she joins us, is Fakhrriyyah Hashim. She is a fellow at the Peace Security Development Fellowship Program for Early Career Africa Women at the African Leadership Center. And she has worked with NGOs, she’s worked with development agencies, she’s worked with the Nigerian government on a number of social issues and programs. And she is actually a protagonist in this book. And we’ll talk a lot about her history in Nigeria, and one of the people that really pioneered the #MeToo movement in Nigeria, which we’ll hear more about.
So, welcome, the two of you, and soon welcome to our third panelist. And let me start off talking to you two as the authors. And let’s talk a little bit about the origins of this book. You know, what is it that inspired you to focus on this, really led you to this topic? And so, Rachel, let me—let me start with you.
VOGELSTEIN: Well, first, let me just thank you, Shannon, for hosting us. And I’m so pleased to be joined by my wonderful co-author and the inspiring Fakhrriyyah Hashim. We’re grateful to be talking to all of you about Awakening. You know, I worked on the 2016 presidential campaign and was hoping to fulfil a goal of electing the first woman president here in the United States and was crushed in the aftermath. But what I really was struck by as I slumped back to Washington, D.C., was this incredible rise in women’s voices. And I think that the U.S. media really covered that here in the United States.
But at the Council on Foreign Relations, we started tracking this rise globally, starting from the 2017 Women’s March, that was truly global on every continent and, remarkably, was organized in only ten weeks, thanks to digital technology. To then the #MeToo movement, which goes viral in October of 2017 and spreads to over one hundred countries. To the rise in female political participation that we start to see in country after country around the world. And I was really struck, as were my colleagues in the Women and Foreign Policy Program, by this rise and the stories of courageous women that really weren’t getting told. And I’m so fortunate and grateful that I got to help tell these stories, together with Meighan, in this book.
O’NEIL: All right. Meighan, talk a little bit, if you would, about your path. And then also, if you would, how did you decide where to focus? How did—how did you decide to focus this book? And where did you focus it?
STONE: Well, thank you so much. First of all, I want to give credit where credit is due, and say that the idea for the book came from Rachel. She approached me initially as another fellow at CFR. And I was really interested in the idea. And I said, this is a great idea to talk about this. Is it OK if I bring to the book a perspective of women human rights defenders and also technology? Because those are big parts of my activist work in the past.
You know, and when it comes to women human rights defenders, what I found over many years of doing this work is that many of them will tell you that they, themselves—privately, in conversation, after you really get to know them—that they themselves have suffered from sexual assault, sexual harassment. Sometimes it’s been at the hands of men in their communities. Other times it’s been a specific act of political retribution for them daring to raise their voice. It’s not something that women always speak out about. I think this is why Nadia Murad’s leadership, you know, another Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is so important, because she really came out and spoke and just—she broke the silence about what women experience in conflict in terms of sexual assault, and how it’s used as a weapon of war.
But this is something that most human rights defenders don’t talk about. Like, they’re much more comfortable talking about if they were jailed unjustly. Or we know that people can be physically attacked. But being sexually assaulted is something that just wasn’t spoken about. And so I was grateful for the opportunity to write with Rachel about this, and really shine a bright light on it. And also, on technology. You know, for anyone that’s ever worked on any modern political campaign or on any social issue, you know, the use of digital organizing is central. And where it really is magical is when you combine the online organizing with the offline organizing together.
So when we looked at the countries we wanted to write about, we really wanted to capture the depth and breadth of this movement. We wanted to make sure that we were bringing to bear country examples and women who were incredible leaders through very different contexts, to try to see what we could pull out. What were universal lessons and linkages and the connective tissue between the movement, but also show that this work can succeed in very different situations—you know, different faith communities, different socioeconomic realities, different colonial histories, you know, difference systems of government.
You know, so we really wanted to show that women everywhere, including in the United States—(laughs)—continue to, you know, face these challenges and bring that humility and a listening ear.
O’NEIL: Now, let me ask you about that, because obviously these issues—these issues of discrimination, of sexual violence, are nothing new in any of these countries around the world. But this last—you know, 2017 on—these last four or five years have been a really defining moment. And the differences, of whether linguistic differences, geographic differences, educational differences, legal differences, religious differences—we really saw a movement around the world. So what is it in this moment—is it the technology? What is it in this moment that made it different? That really you saw #MeToo spread globally?
VOGELSTEIN: Well, we credit the women who were willing to raise their voices. But we also recognize that twenty-first century tools have really helped facilitate that and have transformed the methods and the speed of the global women’s movement. You know, during earlier eras, victories were won only after lifetimes of organizing. It took more than a century for women globally to win the right to vote. It took decades to enshrine the principle that women’s rights are human rights into international law. And today, thanks to advances in technology, the movement can mobilize millions across country lines in a matter of weeks or even days.
We also recognize that twenty-first century tools have diversified the global women’s movement, granting purchase to anyone with access to an internet connect, and helping women find strength in numbers. The internet, in many respects, has become a twenty-first century public square for women, especially in places where their freedom is circumscribed, and they can’t gather safety in public. But they can post anonymously online. And the result is a global women’s movement that is more diverse, more powerful, and more far reaching than at any point in history.
O’NEIL: Great. Well, one thing, as I read your book, really the heart of this book is the case studies and, I believe the seven countries that you look at. So I want to turn to those. And, Meighan, tell us a little bit, if you would, about just the breadth of the seven countries. And then we’re going to start with Nigeria, and we’re going to turn to Fakhrriyyah for that one. So give us a sense of the breadth of countries you covered.
STONE: So I was really grateful to be able to write and chronicle, you know, this work and the victories of women activists leading locally in Nigeria, also in Tunisia and Egypt, just to really compare and contrast what happened since the 2011 uprisings. You two, two very different stories in terms of what happened afterwards the role of women, you know, in trying to form new constitutions, new governments. You know, in one case, in Tunisia, thriving, building something new and being at the center of it, serving in office. And then, Egypt, suffering incredible persecution under the al-Sisi regime after a lot of hope initially.
And I also wrote about Pakistan, a country that I’ve been really grateful to be able to do quite a bit of work regarding—you know, whether that was at Malala Fund or until today. And really just to—you know, honestly, to tear down this idea that women from these countries are not incredible and power and do not need saving in the least. You know, they are creative and courageous. And to really chronicle their victories, and how women are fighting in their own communities for what they believe needs to change. Not what people from other countries or donors think needs to change, but what they know needs to change in a way that can only come from deep roots and commitment to your country, to your community.
Rachel wrote about China, Brazil, and she also wrote about Sweden. So I know she would love to share about the countries that she wrote about.
VOGELSTEIN: Sure. You know, Brazil was fascinating because women there basically turned their campaign against sexual harassment into a campaign for political power, which I think really instructive around the world. In China, women managed to rise up and, in some instances, actually defeat censorship because there were so many women that were willing to come forward that essentially the censors couldn’t keep up. And Sweden, we selected in part because it is often seen as the most gender-equal country in the world. And yet, they had an enormous #MeToo movement there as well, which really exposed a lot of persistent challenges and awakened men and women alike in that country to the work that still remains.
O’NEIL: Great. I don’t know if we just lost Fakhrriyyah or not. Oh, there she is. Great. Well, I want to dive in a little bit more into detail on some of the cases. And I want to start with Nigeria. So, Fakhrriyyah, if you could talk about—give us a little sense of, you know, how the #MeToo movement developed on the ground, and really spread from northern Nigeria to bigger issues. So give us a sense of the trajectory over the last few years and what has happened there.
HASHIM: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Shannon. Well, first, I would like to really thank Meighan and Rachel for documenting all of the works of, you know, these amazing women all over the world. It’s very important that, you know, we’re able to document whatever we’re doing. And that has sort of become the stamp you hear around whatever kind of work you’re doing as, you know, very vital to empowering women just all across the world. So thank you. Thank you so much, especially Meighan who has stayed in contact with me, you know, through the entire journey and to this point.
Well, as you know, if you read the book, I guess you get that sense that the #MeToo movement in northern Nigeria—well, Nigeria, but specifically northern Nigeria, was very much organic. And it was quite on Twitter, actually. So we had a period where just young women just got the courage to start talking about some of their experiences of sexual violence. And, you know, northern Nigeria is known to be one of the most ultra-conservative societies in Africa, as a whole. And so, you know, the courage it took is very immense for, you know, young women to come out and say that that someone that they hadn’t been married to had, you know, sexually violated them, because obviously that stigma is very much still strong within our cultures.
So after that happened, the hashtag really took off. And for the first few days, we saw a lot of men too, you know, being supportive and all of that, until that kind of sparked a series of opening by a lot of young women. And they were pointing their fingers at a lot of young men. So then it became a sort of a threat, right? It became a threat to a lot of men. So it was that, OK, there are very few men that haven’t violated or harassed women in—you know, in that sense of things. And so everyone became afraid. And then we became wrapped up in bipartisan politics here because, you know, that’s the—you know, that’s the first way you can delegitimize a movement, say that they work for one political party or the other.
Or the second, as you know, we’re very much unwelcoming to the LGBTQ community. So anything that you ascribe to that community, then it’s delegitimized automatically. So that happened to us. But then we figured that a majority of women that suffered this kind of sexual violence are offline. So we needed a campaign that would sort of go—get to the grassroots. So we launched a campaign and we focused on the legislative bills that, you know, the state assemblies had refused to pass because of the subject of age of consent, which is also the age of marriage.
They said to marry girls, as long as they’ve had their periods, which in many cases, you know, means a girl can get married then if she’s ten, eleven, twelve, because many girls tend to get their periods at that point. So they rejected the bills. But through quite a lot of advocacy and just reaching out to contacts and networks across the board, we managed to get two states out of about thirteen to adopt the bill, which basically criminalizes marriage below eighteen. But some of them actually tried to remove the clause of that age of consent. That, OK, we’ll take everything, but leave this thing out.
So, I mean, it’s—you know, it’s still ripe. I think globally there’s been this massive shift, right, in how each society perceives sexual violence. And we have realized that too here, right? It’s not something that men between themselves will just handshake, oh, I did this to this girl. Which used to be a norm, and you sort of get a badge of honor or something amongst, you know, the men circles and groups. But right now we’ve seen sort of a shift where you can be shamed by other men for doing that.
But in terms of, you know, the institutional restructuring where you get, you know, a situation where the state actually protects victims of this kind of violence, we have not seen any kind of progress in that sense because, like personally, we’ve taken on a lot of great cases, and none of them have actually manifested in any kind of justice for these victims. And a lot of these girls are minors below fifteen in primary school. And they’re there just lingering, going to court every day, and, you know, the subject of police continually harassing and even shaming victims at the police station when a rape is reported instantaneously. They still shame them.
And no matter how many promises that we’ve gotten from the state and the legislators and all of that, it hasn’t manifested into anything tangible. They come out and they say, OK. Like last year they called for a state of emergency on SGBV. We haven’t seen anything come out of it. Just the statements that they put out. So, I mean, in contrast with, you know, places in the West where we have seen some justice, you know, passed to the victims, no matter when the sexual violence was carried out, we haven’t seen that kind of action here. And I think that is the major distinction between the advocacy over there and the advocacy over here, is that, yes, we’re talking amongst ourselves, especially young women and just women overall, but the state is not listening to us. It’s talking over us. So I’ll just leave it there. (Laughs.)
O’NEIL: No, that’s great. And that’s—I think that’s an interesting dynamic, and something I do want to get into, is the stories that are told in all of these countries is, you know, great advancement, and mobilization, and putting things on the agenda, but then also of a backlash and a pushback from the other side. And so why don’t we turn.
And, you know, Rachel, why don’t you—I would love for you—actually, I would love for you to talk about Sweden, because to me as a read these stories, that was, at least with my preconceptions, the most surprising case. Because, as you say, it’s—you know, we talk about it as one of the most equal places, as quite an open place. It’s a quite secular country. And some of the—you know, some of the issues were the same that we see everywhere, but some of the pushback was interesting. So maybe talk about how that case evolved, and where Sweden is.
VOGELSTEIN: Absolutely. And just want to take a moment to thank Fakhrriyyah for her courage and her advocacy in Nigeria. You know, we write a lot about the stakes and what women face when they come forward in leadership roles. And so we admire and thank you.
In Sweden, it’s a very different context. You know, the norm of gender equality is prized in Sweden. You know, the streets teem with fathers pushing strollers alongside mothers pushing strollers. It looks extremely progressive. And yet, there was an enormous movement there that was triggered by a woman named Cissi Wallin, who actually—after experiencing an assault, had gone to the police to file a complaint. And the police had done nothing with it.
And then years later, she is in New York and reading about Harvey Weinstein, like the rest of us, in the New York Times. And she sees the #MeToo movement go viral here. And she becomes inspired. And she tells her story publicly on social media, on Instagram. And after she tells her story, makes her allegation, she actually names the man she alleges attacked her, who was a very prominent writer. And an unbelievable number of women then come forward with disturbingly similar accusations. And that kicks off this movement.
What was fascinating, though, about Sweden is that women decided collectively against publicly outing individual men, after that first initial wave, and instead chose to amass their stories anonymously online in order to increase the number of women coming forward, and to emphasize that this is really not an issue of a few individual bad apples—which is often how it’s written about in the press—but instead is a form of systemic discrimination against women. And so activists ultimately go on to organize women across sixty-five different industries in Sweden to make the point that it doesn’t matter where you work, or what part of the country, or city, or town that you’re from, this is a universal experience. And they used humor in order to help the movement go viral and stay viral.
So they start to tweet under clever hashtags. The restaurant workers used a phrase that translates to, we are boiling with rage. And health care workers posted under a phrase that translates to, now it will really hurt. You know, the unions tweeted under #NotNegotiable. And this helps capture media attention and keep the movement going over many weeks and months. And it really grows dramatically. So we have, I think, a lot to learn from the experience and the tactics that are used by women in other parts of the world. And that was certainly true in Sweden.
But Sweden also, there’s a coda to this story that is incredibly troubling. While this movement across sixty-five different industries is incredibly exciting and, you know, leads to consideration of a new consent law and a number of other reforms, ultimately we see Cissi Wallin’s—the man she accused go on to sue her for defamation. And he wins in court. And she is then ordered to pay him damages for the injury to his reputation, notwithstanding that eleven other women came forward with remarkably similar tales.
So I think what that shoes is that even in a country like Sweden, where engaging in this activism was certainly easier than in other parts of the world that we write about, even in that context the criminal justice is still failing—the criminal justice system is still failing women. And how can women seek redress in—outside of the court of public opinion if they can’t find redress in a court of law? And that’s a question that we grapple with in the book.
O’NEIL: Meighan, let me invite you into this and, you know, the commonalities we see here between a—you know, a small, open, very wealthy society, and one that’s worked hard, and then one that’s a much larger country, and socioeconomically not as wealthy, other kinds of issues, and some commonalities. Why don’t you choose one of the other cases that you looked at in detail, and where does it fit within this? Are the commonalities almost universal in the cases you looked at or do you see—do you see differences?
STONE: Well, one thing that I think it’s really important to say is to start, you know, I think always in foreign policy with humility about—you know, kind of tearing down any wall or any idea that the U.S. has solved this. You know, I’m proud to be of Choctaw tribal background. And there’s a huge movement in the United States around Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, because these women’s deaths, these women’s sexual assaults are not investigated. So, you know, there’s been a huge movement online here even in the U.S. around this issue. You know, we know that there’s not consistent justice delivered to vulnerable communities in wealthy countries as well. So I think that’s always important to say out loud.
You know, I think the thing that’s consistent is, you know, just when we hear from Fakhrriyyah, you know, Fakhrriyyah if it’s OK to shout you out, like, Fakhrriyyah’s a grad student now, and in her mid-20s, and was organizing without a budget and without, you know, an institution. And really it was you and other grassroots organizers, you know, in your part of northern Nigeria who gathered around this hashtag, arewa—just meaning “north” in Hausa, correct—#ArewaMeToo. And, you know, that’s what we saw consistently.
You know, I think there’s idea that sometimes you can’t be a policymaker or a policy leader or someone that changes policy unless you have a lot of credentials, or a lot of wealth, or, you know, check all the right boxes. And, like, what we found, at least in all the countries that I wrote about, especially in places like Nigeria, Pakistan, Tunisia, Egypt, it’s really generationally younger women. It’s women in their twenties and early thirties, for whom the use of technology and using digital organizing just kind of comes naturally. You know, it’s something that they’re very at home using, and then it’s been kind of this great democratizing force, right?
What it’s meant is that young people, especially in cultures that may not only devalue women but also young people—there is a lot of agism as well—you know, all of a sudden have access to space to be heard that they don’t have, you know, otherwise. You know, for the Tunisian women that I had talked to, a lot of them discovered—this collective organizing power—because of the 2011 uprisings. They found the way that they were organizing online, through Facebook and later through Twitter, was a power that they could apply then to gender equality when they were campaigning to try to make sure that they had a very different constitutional then they had before.
The same thing in Egypt. In Egypt, many of the women activists—you know, women like Mozn Hassan, who’s a lawyer, who became extremely involved in defending women who were sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square, very specifically targeted with sexual violence to try to silence them, as part of the Sisi regime later, and previous to that just government forces trying to keep them quiet and get them out—literally out of the public space. You know, she went on to work on Egypt’s constitution, but today is under house arrest. Like, she’s been formally charged with the irresponsible incitement of women for their liberation, which is literally what she’s been charged in Egyptian court with.
But she continues to campaign for her causes and for her freedom from the subjugation that she’s experiencing from the Sisi regime over social media. So she’s still out there. She is still speaking. She is still organizing. And I think about Pakistan, lastly, because same thing. Young women coming together. They had their own version of the Women’s March, called the Aurat March. Aurat just means “woman” in Urdu. And they gathered in the street. Also digitally organized. And they campaigned around a really specific platform. Not just outrage, but changing protests into progress, asking for real legal, economic, and political equality. So I’d say what I see as consistent is that the movement’s broader, it’s more diverse, and it’s also younger. (Laughs.) And I think that’s important to champion and to recognize.
O’NEIL: Agreed. I have a lot of questions, but I do want to make sure that we bring in members and guests to ask questions. I’m going to ask one more question before I open it up. And here, with all these stories that you all present, and the different aspects of it, in your conclusion you come out with some sort of overarching ideas and perhaps lessons, or things to do. Like, how do you push forward and how do you push through some of the barriers that you all are talking about here, honestly, that these various women have faced? So why don’t you walk us through—either Rachel or Meighan—walk us through what you call the five Rs. But what is it that women in these countries, but others who want to support them, can do?
VOGELSTEIN: Well, as Meighan said, we outlined an agenda in the book to help turn the protests we’ve seen around the world into real progress, even beyond the remarkable victories we’ve seen over the last three years. And we’ve come to refer to that agenda as the five Rs, which are: redress for survivors, reform of the law, representation for women, resources for implementation, and a recalibration of many of the social norms that underly some of the challenges that Fakhrriyyah talked about, that Meighan talked about, that we write about in the book.
And redress, or justice for survivors of sexual harassment and assault, is really at the top of the agenda of virtually every #MeToo activist that we interviewed globally. You know, for centuries people accused of sexual abuse, particularly those with the most power, have really had the legal system tipped in their favor, while the reputations and the integrity of survivors have been put on trial. And Fakhrriyyah was talking about the shame and stigma that often attends to people who come forward about what has happened. And so the #MeToo movement’s helping to disrupt that, but in many cases our legal systems haven’t caught up.
And this injustice of shame related to assault helps explain why before the online #MeToo movement happened that so few women were willing to come forward to name what was plainly happening all around us. These tools allow women the anonymity and the strength of numbers that have really changed that. But at bottom, we need to ensure that we’re delivering justice for survivors, which requires a functioning and balanced legal system, one that certainly protects the rights of the accused but that also protects the rights of survivors and is free from discrimination and stereotypes about women.
And in the book, we recognize that as a first step governments need to ensure that there are adequate legal protections against assault and harassment in place in every country. We write about some of the victories that we’ve seen in the countries that we focused on, but three years into this movement an astounding fifty countries still have no prohibition on sexual harassment in the workplace. And even where there are laws on the books, too often they’re written in a way that prevents justice for women. So focusing on redress for survivors is at the top of this five R agenda.
O’NEIL: So now I want to invite members to join the conversation. Please, everyone, remember this meeting is on the record. And I’m going to turn to Laura, our operator, to give you the instructions again on how you can do that and raise your hand.
OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)
We will take the first question from Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome.
Q: Thank you very much.
I haven’t read the book, but I guess I will have to. And I guess I’m also most familiar with the Nigeria struggle. And my question actually was partially answered in the last bit of statement by the speakers. So what I was wondering is what kind of social and institutional strategies can be adopted to push the agenda forward to support women who speak out to get justice and social support instead of stigma, and also restoration? Because I think the kind of restoration that’s needed is psychological, material, as well as social. So how can we build on the positive gains from what these courageous social activists have done? And I’m a professor of political science at Brooklyn College.
O’NEIL: Thanks. Fakhrriyyah, could I turn to you? And what do you think should be done? Or how do you see addressing those bigger systemic issues?
HASHIM: I think at the very core of these issues is that a lot of states do lack the political will to change some of these things. And I’d like to think that because, I mean, a lot of our governments are male-dominated, and these—taking opportunities like these have their own spillover effect. And so it has a way of, you know, turning around and affecting them in a way that they wouldn’t want to. But one of the things that we’re focusing on here in Nigeria is advancing, you know, women’s political representation. And it does—it is a very complex path to take, but we also realize that, you know, we can—the kind of work that we—the kind of solutions that we can get some of these people in government to adopt are going to be very limited because, for one, like I mentioned, these—you know, these areas are very much male dominated.
And second, you know, they just cannot prioritize things that they do not feel affect them. And in the—you know, in the context of northern Nigeria and Nigeria as a whole, as I’m sure, you know, the professor is familiar with, is that we have a security situation that is forever evolving, teetering towards a more dangerous path. Nigeria has become a lot more dangerous for women than when we started this advocacy, because now we have the issue of banditry and kidnapping in the northwest of Nigeria where at the core of it, it’s women being raped for ransom. And I’m talking about thousands and thousands of women in captivity. Every single day we hear about hundreds of children, and especially women, being kidnapped. So you see that the priority has shifted, because now, you know, the state is having to deal with these issues that they see as more pressing than countering sexual violence. And they get to use it as an excuse to not implement some of the promises that they have made for the protection of women.
So right now, like, a lot of the work that we see being done around, you know, social reengineering, advocacy, especially at the grassroots, is being carried out by a lot of NGOs. Like, you can see very minimal involvement of government in these areas, so a lot of the—I guess a lot of the organizations that are doing this kind of work, and at the end of the day the grassroots organizations don’t necessarily have resources. And, you know, there is, you know, this point of contention where a lot of the aid—because obviously we do not get funding locally. Like, the billionaires and the millionaires that you hear of here across Africa, in the Forbes, there’s very few of them that actually contribute to, you know, some of these organizations and aid agencies. So a lot of the resources come from outside.
So I think it’s very important to refocus where the resources are coming to, because then it deeply affects social reengineering when you are funding, let’s say, an organization in Abuja or Lagos, for example, to do the work of, you know, grassroots communities. Before the funding trickles down—it never does. Before it goes down they only have, you know, just a bit of that for, OK, let’s have all of the women in one place and, you know, let’s just speak to them. So you’re not really implementing anything.
You’re speaking to these women that understand what sexual violence is, that have experienced sexual violence, you’re speaking to them about, oh, you know, this is how you protect yourself, your girls. But you’re not putting structures in place to ensure that they’re able to counter some of—you know, they’re able to use some of these structures that you’ve helped build with them, you know, you haven’t capitalized on that. So at the end of the day, yes, the resources flow, but it’s not dominant within the community, and it flows out. So without any real impact or real structure being created within local communities.
O’NEIL: (Inaudible)—or the restoration, the kinds of things that Rachel was talking about. Go ahead, Meighan.
STONE: I just really want to uplift what Fakhrriyyah just said. You know, and I feel like it’s so important to have women leaders and local leaders, like Fakhrriyyah, in exactly these spaces. And I want to shoutout CFR for letting us change up the usual way that we announce fellows’ books and allowing us to ask Fakhrriyyah to join us, because this is really the heart of the issue about whether aid is working or not, right? Are resources getting to who can do the best work? And this not only the right thing to pursue, it’s also about effective and efficient use of aid and, ultimately, U.S. taxpayer dollars. We should be putting resources where we can see systemic change.
You know, globally less than one penny of every dollar of foreign aid globally goes to women-led organizations—women’s organizations doing the kind of work that Fakhrriyyah and other women that we profile in the book do. Less than one penny of every dollar. That seems really low for women being at least 50 percent of the population. It seems perilously low, right? You know, so I think it’s really important for folks in D.C., and for members of the Council, and policymakers to hear, like, what is the real experience of folks on the ground? You know, for some of these really well-intentioned ideas and policies, how do we make sure it works for people locally? Because those are the—those are the women who are going to be delivering the future of their communities. And they’re the ones that we believe we should invest in.
O’NEIL: OK. Let’s take the next question.
OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Tamara Wittes.
Q: Hi. Thank you so much. And Meighan and Rachel, congratulations. I’m really excited to get my copy from Politics & Prose and devour it.
I wanted to follow up on a point that Fakhrriyyah made in her initial remarks. Fakhrriyyah, you talked about the challenge of the way that men interact with each other when women aren’t around. All those rooms that men are in, that women are not in. And obviously we are all working to try and ensure representation and to make sure that women get into all the rooms that they should be in. But there are always going to be those space where men are talking to one another. So my question is whether in the course of your research you learned lessons about how the women in the #MeToo movement globally are addressing this challenge. How are they getting men onboard so that when they’re in those rooms without women, they are saying and doing what they need to do?
VOGELSTEIN: I’m happy to start and tell a story from our chapter focused on Brazil, because I think one answer to that question is that by collectively organizing the sheer numbers of women who are coming forward, that’s starting to change male perceptions of this issue. And it’s not the whole answer, but it’s definitely one answer. And the example I will give is of the hashtag that goes viral in Brazil, which actually long predates the #MeToo hashtag. This is back in first 2013 and then 2015. There’s a hashtag in Brazil, #MeuPrimeiroAssedio which translates to “my first harassment.” That’s started by an activist, Juliana de Faria, who’s using digital technology not only to amass numbers of women but also to help visualize electronically the pervasiveness of harassment and assault by creating a platform so that women could post the locations of assaults on a map in real time.
And that was undeniable. It was no longer possible to say that this was a crime that occurred only in certain neighborhoods, or only at certain times of day, when you have this visual map. But the hashtag goes viral. And when it does, the largely male-dominated journalism field starts to write articles, as women are massing online and turning that into protests in the streets, saying women are trying to say something. What are they trying to say? And I remember sitting with one of the activists we talked to, Manoela Miklos, who couldn’t believe that the male-dominated journalism sector didn’t—couldn’t see that—the fact that there were so few women who were able to write in the newspapers was part of the problem.
So they decided to basically take over. And they—Manoela and her colleague Antonia Pellegrino, who happened to be privileged and well-connected, contact most of the leading male journalists in Brazil and ask for women to occupy their columns. And what was really fascinating about it is they ended up occupying columns that largely men would read. So for example, the most popular blog in Brazil, it will not be a surprise certainly to Shannon, who’s an expert in Latin America, but also to many of you, is about football, or soccer. And so Manoela and Antonia get the author of this blog to allow women to take over and post about sexual assault and harassment.
And suddenly you have millions of men logging on after a major soccer match and expect to read about a post-game analysis. And instead, they all read about sexual assault and harassment, including a story of a daughter of the author of the blog who came forward about an assault that she hadn’t told her father about before. And that really starts to shift perceptions. You know, we found the same thing was true in China, in Sweden—so many men talked about how the sheer number, the volume of women coming forward really started to change their understanding, caused a reconsideration of their behavior. But that’s not the whole answer.
And in our five R agenda we also talk about the importance of a recalibration of social norms. You know, for centuries we’ve put women in trial rather than men, not just in a court of law but in the court of public opinion. And working to try to recalibrate those social norms, whether that means consent education starting from the earliest ages or whether that means a reexamination of predispositions of women leaders and women’s power, all that is part of the solution here in the United States as well.
O’NEIL: Fakhrriyyah, could I ask you, in Nigeria are you seeing men changing their conversation? Or any pockets where there may be a different kind of dynamic going on?
HASHIM: Well, absolutely. The reality of things is—and I guess a lot of other countries can relate to this—it’s when women talk, they—you know, no one listens. And when a man repeats the same thing, and then people nod their heads in agreement. So one of the things we realized early was, OK, this is how our society is set up. And it was also very critical that among some—the grassroot organizers and people we just worked with, it was important that we had, you know, a share of men to join the advocacy—men that we could align on, you know, what we were—what we were doing, what our mission was, and the things that we were trying to see change. So in all of the work that we did, you know, we had a lot of men join us. And that made—and, you know, it’s very unfortunate, but that actually forced a lot of other men to sort of listen to what we were saying.
Because it’s not that women have never come out to say that this thing has been done to them. But the fact that, you know, a lot more men were understanding the dynamics of, you know, sexual violence and, you know, the power dynamics of things. So they were—you know, for them it was, OK, doing their own bit, using their own privilege as men within our society to, you know, voice out some of these very, very critical issues. So we did see a lot of successes because—so, for example, you would go to one of the state assemblies, which is like the lower national assembly, the Senate. And, you know, a lot of the women were actually always afraid of confronting some of these legislators on their own because they have a reputation for harassing women when they go to them to talk about policy and whatever.
So when you go with a man and you see that the way they receive you and the way they listen to you actually, you know, would—you know, you get to get more, you know, productivity out of than conversation than when you would go alone, because then what you’re complaining to them is going to be the same thing they’re going to end up doing to you. So a lot of young women—like, the national assembly here in Nigeria, the Senate, has a reputation for sexually harassing and abusing young women. That’s why many people don’t actually like to go there, because they make it seem like, OK, you know, you have to accept that this is going to happen. Either you can take it, or if you can’t then you can’t walk there.
So you can imagine, these are the same people that are supposed to be making the laws that guide, you know, law and order in the country. So it is—it is quite enraging that this is coming from them. But it is the reality of, you know, what is happening in our society. So, yes, you know, through that we did seek a lot of men to work with us, so as to avoid some of these things from happening. But also for the fact that they have the privilege of being listened to twice as much as we would as women.
O’NEIL: Let me go to the next question.
OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Tom McDonald.
Q: Hi. Good afternoon. Tom McDonald. Partner of Vorys Sater in Washington, D.C., and former U.S. ambassador in the second Clinton term.
I can’t wait to get the book. Great presentation. Really kudos to our colleague—our courageous college from Nigeria, where I’ve spent some time from Kano to, you know, the east, and Port Harcourt and Enugu and Abuja state, and so forth. What, to you, who having spent time in Nigeria, you know, again, you know, you operate with some danger. And you know, the—our host, Shannon, mentioned, you know, traffic. And having been around Lagos—they said you were a little delayed in traffic—I can only imagine.
But what is the role of the private sector there and the American—so here’s the question: How can we together, and it’s really women and men, right—and so especially in a place like Nigeria, where I first visited as a student, so male dominated. What about the econets and the MTNs and the Shoprites and all the South African investment. And we all know Strive Masiyiwa, who’s a Zimbabwean national, and Econet has done well in Nigeria. And SANEF bank and the American multinationals who are there, aren’t, those a source of funding? And, you know, we’d love to receive you in Washington. And I’m sure, you know, maybe—you know, maybe we can contribute. I’m a paying dues member—(laughs)—of the Council. But you ought to come and sit with Samantha Power and, you know, here is the opportunity to raise the level of this.
And let me just end just anecdotally, I had twenty-five meetings one-on-one with comrade Mugabe. And how many hours and days do you have—would you allow me to discuss, you know, his exploitations of women, both on a national basis and one-on-one at the various farms he would be found at over the weekend. And to—
O’NEIL: Hey, Tom, I want to get to the question, so we have a lot of other in the queue. But—
Q: No, no, I understand. So—
O’NEIL: I really like your idea of what should the private sector, multinationals and others—
Q: Yeah. What can the private sector do.
O’NEIL: What is the role that they can play in being allies in this, in Nigeria but other countries too around the world.
Q: Thank you, Shannon.
O’NEIL: Who wants to start that one?
STONE: I can start off and just throw it to Fakhrriyyah, because, of course, we want to hear from her. You know, I just think the private sector has an incredible role to play in both setting an example, also in funding this work—whether globally or locally. You know, private sector’s had a huge role in solving other problems, like the global AIDS crisis. You know, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria has always had business as part of their work. I think we know that we have to bring all the tools we can to this fight to win it. You know, and I think we need to uplift and champion women in leadership roles and business. You know, the book—we do talk about representation not just in government, but also in business. And we know that business had tremendous influence over government. (Laughs.) And it’s important that women have agency and power in all spheres, or else, you know, their interests will not be represented, as Fakhrriyyah shared earlier. But I’d love to hear from her as to what she thinks the role of the private sector could be, and particularly in Nigeria.
O’NEIL: Yeah. That would be great.
HASHIM: Yeah, that is a very critical question that Tom asked. And, you know, I think, firstly, you have to look at the relationship dynamic between these companies and the government. In Nigeria, you find that the private sector is very much obedient to the government because of how chaotic the regulations can get. For example, recently there was the whole debacle with MTN where they misbehaved and were asked to pay billions, but then, you know, they were able to allow themselves to be subjugated and then, you know, they paid a fraction of that. So the relationship between the private sector and the government is very complex.
But, you know, particularly to this case, when it comes to social issues, the private sector tend to perceive these as very much political issues, right, because you would have to have a well-rounded understanding of what kind of conflict or security issue are you trying to resolve. And what kind of contributions are you trying to make? Can it be politicized? Can you be—can you find yourself in a lot of trouble helping whatever it is? So it’s—you know, tends to be complex. So we don’t really see a lot of private sector involvement, even when it comes to the CSR. You’ll see them during the sixteen days of activism. They’ll post a few posters and be like, ah, yes, we support women.
But at the corporate level, they’re not really doing anything to empower women at any level. So maybe during Ramadan, for example, they contribute trucks of rice. What does that do to anyone? Like, you eat it within a few weeks if, you know, you’re that poor. Then that’s it. It does nothing to you. I think the biggest involvement we saw of the private sector in—around social issues—oh. I apologize. The electricity just went off, but it’s not going to affect my internet. But, yeah, we saw—we saw the private sector play an active role during COVID, because they saw the pandemic as something that had shook economies, something that had shook countries, and that.
But the same does not apply to sexual violence, even though the violation of women is an epidemic itself and has been for decades, for centuries. So the non-prioritization of women’s safety and protection is really a cause for shaming them into, you know, fueling their resources to ensure that they’re not just giving money to—you know, to provide psychosocial support and that for victims, but putting—you know, supporting the creation and putting together the structures that can sustain the safety and protection of women. Like, I mentioned, for example, in the northwest the conflicts that we have right now.
I can argue that that conflict is the most dangerous for women right now in sub-Saharan Africa because, you know, even the insurgency of Boko Haram, which had killed more people than any insurgency in the world, has not—you know, has not created that level of insecurity that we are seeing today in the northwest. And you can see that there is little to no attention being paid to that. And, you know, this further complicates the kind of work we can do, because the majority of Nigerian women are in abject poverty, right? So they have to become the focus of our work—the grassroots, the communities where there is very little to no government presence.
So when you have no presence of government, then these are very much ungoverned spaces. So you have to even create the spaces in you want to protect women. But it’s easier for us to come to Abuja, of course, like, within the middle class and the upper-lower class there’s a lot of violation of women. And there is the need for it to, to improve, you know, sharing resources across some of these places that very much require them. But then it shouldn’t be at the cost of a lot of these women—the majority of, you know, women from these local communities. Because the situation is getting, you know, a lot worse. It’s comparable to the situation we’ve seen in Congo over the past few decades. So I don’t know if I’ve answered what—yeah, I just thought, you know, that was an important comment to make.
O’NEIL: It is an important comment to make. And we are reaching the end of our hour. You have gotten the benefit here of hearing a deep dive on Nigeria, but in this book there are six other countries that have as much richness, and history, and real reflection on what’s happening. So as we come to a close, I want to thank all of our panelists for their insights. And I want to encourage all of you, as you’ll see in the chat, go out and buy the book. It is well-worth your time. And, to boot, it’s a really great read. So thank you all. Thank you all for attending. And everyone, stay well.
OPERATOR (?): Thank you.
STONE (?): Thank you to Fakhrriyyah—(laughter)—for speaking despite the power cut. Thank you. (Laughter.)
HASHIM: No, thank you so much. (Laughter.)