Anguish, then hope, in the wake of #MeToo

By Marisol Grandon

Founder and CEO at Unfold Stories

Throughout the last year at Unfold Stories, we’ve been working with charities, NGOs and businesses to help them tell the story of their work for good. We’ve been involved in content gathering, immersive stories and a fair amount of consultancy work — advising clients on best practice in digital and the evolving nature of communications.

I get excited about technology on a regular basis and especially the intersection between technology and human communication — how technology allows you to tell stories in powerful ways through a blend of pictures, sounds and words.

And I have spent years talking to people about the positive power of social media — what it can do to catapult ideas forward, how it can galvanise movements. I saw the power of it with #FreedomIs during the Girl Summit in 2014 which rallied an African-led movement to end FGM and child marriage.

Yet in the past few years, the negative sides of total connectivity and social media immersion have made themselves very apparent. There is the rise of extremism, trolling and the increasing inability for people to connect with the real world. We know that phones are rewiring our worlds and minds — who isn’t guilty of checking all feeds the moment their eyes open in the morning?

With such negative behaviour, the connectivity backlash is building momentum. It manifests itself through obsession with back to basics aesthetics. Simplicity, utilitarian clothes. People are craving reality, real things and real skills. People want to whittle wood and make their own furniture. The mock farmer look is there for a reason.

Add to this the fact that as social media evolves, the networks become ever more commercially driven.

Additionally, the massive increase in closed groups and private sharing through Whatsapp and Telegram means social media is less public than it was.

For all these reasons and more, digital communications work was starting to lose its shine for me. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Then #MeToo happened…

It was and is a huge moment, and it wouldn’t have happened without social media.

I’m writing about it on International Women’s Day simply to reflect on what social media has contributed to this positive and incredible shift in global society. These six characters provided women all over the world a simple way to speak up about things they should not have had to endure.

It was so powerful. And when I finally plucked up the courage to join the movement by posting #MeToo on my Twitter feed, I realised that I was only doing so because I felt the backing of millions of supporters around the world.

Afterwards, and having seen plenty of colleagues doing the same, a friend contacted me to say she was gathering stories of women in the aid sector who had experienced sexual harassment. She urged me to add my story to it, assuming that it had occurred during my career. It hadn’t — my story occurred when I was 17.

Yet, the stories she was gathering were shocking and needed to be heard. Men who abuse their positions in any setting, but especially where there are vulnerable people, must be held to account.

Thankfully at work, I have not seen anything like it during my time in the aid sector. But the stories are real. The scandals that are emerging show how institutions that were trusted have failed everyone — their supporters, the people who they’re meant to be helping and their own staff. It’s distressing beyond belief. So it’s very good the focus is now there.

While these stories of abuse are unrooted, I also think it’s important to consider the many brilliant men and women who work in aid whose commitment is genuine and who are completely selfless and honourable in their endeavours.

I’ve been lucky to meet many hundreds of people like that — in humanitarian work, in education, in girls and women’s empowerment programmes and global healthcare. Doctors, engineers, teachers, and civil servants who don’t require medals and recognition to be motivated by what they do.

Ayan and Mowlid from Save the Children who we worked with last year are two such individuals. I learned so much from them.

This is the humanitarian work I know and recognise.

#TimesUp #IWD2018 #InternationalWomensDay #WomensDay #TimeIsNow #PressForProgress

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on March 7, 2018.

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