In October 2018, a dozen women came forward to tell stories about sexual harassment and abuse at the heart of Europe’s democracy.
Few were surprised.
What occurs at the European Parliament simply reflects what is happening in other working or private places in Europe.
Ask your colleagues, your friends, your sister, your mum. I am sure many of them have experienced some sort of sexual misconduct, harassment or abuse at a certain point in their life. I know it because I have; I know it because one in 10 women in Europe has too.
I, as a victim, was not able to identify those behaviours as violence for a very long time, mainly because such conduct was taken for granted, accepted and even considered as normal by society.
This has created a culture of silence that left many women helpless and alone to deal with the trauma, even being confronted with their abuser on a daily basis.
In April last year, Spanish journalist Cristina Fallarás launched the hashtag #Cuéntalo (speak up) on Twitter, to tell the story of a young girl abused by a group of boys in London. Thousands of women from across the world followed up by sharing their own stories of abuse.
The action allowed thousands of women to give a name to what they had suffered. It empowered them. Being able to share their experiences with other women gave them comfort.
This is what the #MeToo campaign in the European Parliament has done for all the women that have been abused at the heart of Europe’s democracy.
During a recent conference on the issue, a male colleague who uncovered some of the cases explained how at first, he was surprised because he assumed those “sexual encounters” were consensual. He even thought women might be just taking advantage of their sexuality to advance their career.
This further demonstrates how certain behaviour has been normalized, to the extent that 27% of Europeans think rape could be justifiable in certain situations. The problem is not that they do not know what they are doing. The problem is that they do not think is wrong.
#MeToo helped to break the silence in the Parliament, confront the perpetrators with reality, open the debate about an invisible but alarming reality. Now, they want to see action.
Parliament has passed a resolution on gender mainstreaming and imposition of mandatory training on sexual harassment. When the plenary voted the inclusion of such courses in its rules of process of the chamber, the proposal was thrown out.
#MeToo has also called on candidates to the European elections to commit themselves to fight sexual harassment and for gender equality. If you ask me, I find it disturbing that we have to ask public representatives.
If we want to have a better, fairer, more inclusive Europe, we should waste no time; stop blaming our girls and start educating today’s boys now. The question still remains on how to get men on board.
by Alexandra Brzozowski
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Views are the author’s
Edited by Sam Stolton