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News 19 Oct 17

#MeToo Campaign Strikes Chord Among Balkan Women

In the light of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, women from Romania and Albania especially have joined the #metoo social media campaign and are speaking out about sexual harassment in their countries. 

Ana Maria Touma, Fatjona Mejdini, Dusica Tomovic
BIRN
Bucharest, Tirana, Podgorica
Romanians prepare a banner before a march to raise awareness on violence against women in Bucharest at the beginning of October. Photo: Centrul Filia/Facebook.

After many allegations emerged that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein had assaulted vulnerable women, more and more women from around the world have felt emboldened to open up about their own experiences of harassment and discrimination.

Under the social media hashtag #MeToo, victims of sexual assault have shared their experiences in a show of solidarity meant to expose the magnitude of the problem in their societies.

The campaign did not gain traction in all Balkan countries, but in Romania and Albania it has generated an intense debates on violence against women at home, on the street and at work.

Romania has one of the highest rates of violence against women in Europe. Nine out of ten people there believe violence against women is a serious problem in society, according to a poll released in May by the country’s Agency for Equality of Chances.

Hundreds of Romanian women, but also men, have joined the online Metoo campaign sharing their stories and solidarity.

Fashion designer Catinca Zilahy was among the first to post about sexual harassment on Facebook.

“I don’t even know where to start: the school teacher who used to touch me during tutoring, the workers on the street with their obscene gestures, the weird guy from the bus who takes advantage of the crowd and sticks to your body so you’d feel his disgusting protuberances or the boss who suggested himself as a lover during meetings and then undermined me in front of the team? There is much to tell… We live in a society with a medieval mentality, which is difficult to change. That’s why we shouldn’t be quiet anymore!” she wrote.

Romanian MP Florina Presada also shared a long post. “I was subjected to all kinds of sexual harassment in so many contexts, professional and personal, and so many times, that I needed therapy to understand that it was not my fault and neither was it the fault of what I was wearing or saying, so I could wear heels and skirts again,” she wrote.

“In Romania, a woman is physically assaulted every 30 seconds, and every four hours one is raped,” she added.

One post by male style columnist Norbert Matei went viral after he apologized for all the times he had harassed girls as a teenager.

“I pushed her against the wall and I kissed her as well as I knew, by force. I will never forget how paralyzed she was and, after she tried to push me a few times … she started crying.

"The moron in me thought he kicked ass. Because dad had told me at a certain point that when a woman doesn’t like it, you take control and show her who the man is. #hertoo,” he wrote.

He said the #metoo campaign should not only involve the women victims but those men who are willing to admit they were once aggressors. His testimony was shared 770 times in 24 hours.

Inspired by the scale of the campaign, Romanian police issued a press release encouraging victims of sexual assault or harassment to file complaints against aggressors. Only 34 cases were filed in the whole of 2017, the police release noted.

The campaign has also drawn an echo in Albania, where women’s rights activists have also shared their experience of harassment and assault.

"Coming home from school. Middle of the day. City centre. Never having experienced sex. A stranger from the street grabbed me and pushed me violently against the wall of the building," one wrote.

"He tried to RAPE me. I panicked. I couldn't move. I couldn't speak. He started touching me in my intimate parts. Luckily a family with a baby crying was passing by. He heard the baby's cry was getting louder and nearer. He got scared and ran immediately away,” the woman – who asked not to be named – recounted.

“I couldn't tell my story for a long time to anybody because I was scared that people would say that it was my fault. And this is only ONE STORY. Sexual assault, harassment and gender-based violence are very common,” she added.

Xheni Karaj, an LGBT activist, wrote that she had often experienced aggression from straight men who wanted to “make me understand what I had lost in this life and turn me into a happy heterosexual woman”.

Some women's rights activists in Montenegro have also shared the hashtag to raise awareness about sexual harassment and assaults against women. 

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