Books Driving Change: Meighan Stone and Awakening

Show me the social movement where there was no backlash. I’ll wait for an answer, because there is none. There is not an example of a social movement that didn’t trigger backlash. Because these things feel very threatening when we start to change the structures of society. — Meighan Stone, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; Former President, Malala Foundation  

 

 


 

Matthew Bishop (MB): This is Matthew Bishop with Books Driving Change, where I talk to authors about their books, which I think are relevant and inspirational for anyone who is looking to build back better as we come out of this dreadful pandemic. 

 

Today, I’m talking with Meighan Stone who, with Rachel Vogelstein, has written a book called Awakening: #MeToo and the Global Fight for Women’s Rights, which is published by the Council on Foreign Relations here in New York. It’s an extraordinary book, not least because it shows in a way that nothing I’ve read before really has, the extent to which the Me Too movement is a global movement. And actually one, and this is something I’ll explore with Meighan, that really finds extraordinary commonalities about the experience of women in society, including in countries that you might have thought were very different in terms of the status of women and the experience of women. And it shows there to be a global women’s movement revival going on. But we’ll turn to that in a moment. 

 

I wanted to start by asking in a sentence, given our audience are people who are interested in public service and are interested in getting involved in building back better, why should they read Awakening?

 

Meighan Stone (MS): Well, first of all, I want to say you don’t need to read any books to get started in pursuing public service or trying to build back better. But if you were to read a book, and you read mine, which would be very generous, you would learn a lot from the women that we write about in the seven countries that we cover. And how if you just apply some creativity and courage, it’s really quite remarkable what can get done. So lots of lessons to be learned from these incredible women globally.

 

MB: Well, let’s start with this point I made in the introductory remarks, which is that it would have been easy to follow the Me Too debate in the Western media and feel that it was principally about America, and then maybe a number of other rich countries going through a final stage of women’s advancement. But what you show in the book, it seems to me is something quite profound, that there seems to be all over the world, a quite common set of experiences, even in countries that on the face of it are quite different. Because there seems to be still a common problem that women everywhere are facing.

 

I do believe that the backlash that these women are experiencing is, frankly, evidence of the success of the movement.

 

MS: They are, and the goal of the book was to really chronicle what has been the impact of this movement, and how it’s spread to over a hundred countries. And that is really changing the way that women advocate in terms of sexual assault and sexual violence, but frankly, changing the way that women’s rights are fought for and won across the world.

 

MB: And you do have some fairly chilling statistics in terms of a number of countries where basic rights are not even in the law, where for example women can be prevented from working. And certainly, a lot of courts are hostile to a woman bringing sexual harassment charges, that there’s still a culture of not believing women when they bring these stories of their assaults to light. What do you think is going on there? Why has this global movement taken off right now?

 

MS:  You’re so right about everything that you point out about the legal changes that need to happen, and that many women in a variety of countries are still waiting to see. Whether those are laws banning sexual harassment in the workplace, or giving women the right to make basic choices in their lives about where to work, or being able to travel without permission, inheritance rights, you name it. And so women have been fighting in incredible ways over the last several years. 

 

We feel that what we saw was that digital organizing is what has made THE huge difference in this movement. And not in this starry eyed, panacea, magical way. But in a way that it’s just very practically a tool that’s almost perfectly suited to this kind of organizing. When you think about how many women have experienced being sexually harassed at work — in many of the cases we saw sexually assaulted by powerful men, men that are government officials, men that are religious leaders, men that have a lot of power to make sure that survivors keep quiet and are shamed into silence. These men would never have been exposed if women weren’t able to have a space where they could, at low cost and with more physical safety than they would experience in the real world in real time, be able to come online and say, You know this, this happened to me. And then other women say, Wait a minute, I thought that was just me. Me too, the same official, this same police officer, the same religious leader was who did this to me. And women are being able to, in a new way, join together and campaign in a way that they weren’t able to. And we saw that the most effective work was actually happening where there was online organizing to do the low cost widespread outreach, but then it was married up with real time presence. 

 

I think about women in the north of Nigeria, they started their own version of the Me Too movement called ArewaMeToo. Arewa just means north in Hausa. And the women in the north where Boko Haram is quite active, made the movement their own. They were taking on their own local challenges within their community, and really joining together, and wound up moving that campaigning from online to being offline and going to Parliament and demanding that new legislation be passed and really going out in public. 

 

And, they’ve experienced blowback. I don’t want to minimize any backlash. But I do believe that the backlash that these women are experiencing is, frankly, evidence of the success of the movement. It’s how the powers that be don’t feel threatened until they think there’s actually something that could take some of that power away, or change the structure that supports them. And so I think that even the backlash is evidence that these women are succeeding.

 

We’re three years into the Me Too movement now, and an astounding 50 countries still have no prohibition on sexual harassment in the workplace.

 

MB: It does seem pretty clear from what you write that this is one case where with the internet and the ability to use social media, the benefits have far outweighed the costs. That’s a broader debate, generally, as to the extent to which the social media revolution is really a revolutionary force in a good way or not. But certainly in this case, there does seem to have unearthed a sort of global connectivity that has been empowering in a very different way, in a positive way.

 

MS: It has. I think it’s been incredibly positive for the women’s movement globally, because it’s democratized the movement. In the past, women’s rights leaders often tended to be privileged women, who were the heroines of women’s rights that people usually look at. They were, by and large, Western, white, global north women. And it’s far, far overdue that women from a variety of backgrounds, religions, ethnicities, races, contexts, are rightly seen as the leaders in their own liberation. And what the internet has done is allowed for a much broader movement, and a much more diverse movement in a way that, I believe, is a big piece of why they’re achieving real wins. And it’s also allowed for two things to happen at the same time that seem like they could almost be counterintuitive, and that is the movement is transnational, but also hyper localized. 

 

Because technology has a low barrier to entry and a low cost, women can trade inspiration across borders, and use tactics that they see working in other countries. An example of this is A Rapist in Your Path, the performance protest piece that a Chilean women’s rights collective developed — and then it rapidly started getting reproduced everywhere from in front of Tunisia’s parliament to in front of Harvey Weinstein’s trial. In New York, it was translated into many different languages and put into different contexts. Women started customizing the lyrics, and went to places of power — out in front of courtrooms and legislative bodies — to try to make this point in this creative way. And women can also transnationally encourage each other — in victories and also when there’s difficulty — and know that they’re not alone. 

 

But it’s also hyper localized in that women are able to call out, in their own way, whatever they think are priorities — including if those are specific officials that they need to name and want to see a credible investigation into for sexual assault of sexual harrassment. They can go to this public space online if their workplaces aren’t taking their complaints seriously in a way that they believe they should be. And they’re able to really call for specific legislation or very specific changes that they need to say, in their community. And that way that the campaign is really open source in a way that’s brought incredible power.

 

MB: I think the book does a great job of capturing those different global stories and you start with an elected female official in Brazil who ends up being killed, and then and you go to Tunisia, you go to Pakistan. You go, actually in a way that I found quite remarkable, to Sweden which is a country that I, and maybe many other people, just imagine to be incredibly liberated and have tremendous equality of the women and men. But in fact, as you show, it has an establishment that is male dominated and that has rallied around to some extent leading male figures who’ve been accused of sexual harassment, and still now needs to go for another wave of reform, if it’s to remain a leading nation.

 

MS: That’s exactly right. We looked across globally, digging into where Me Too had gone viral, where there had been specific wins, and we actually worked with Twitter at one point. And we found that it had spread — between Twitter and then also looking at Facebook — to over a hundred countries, which is really remarkable. If anybody had sat down in a campaign headquarters and said, Let’s go out to a hundred countries, I don’t even know how you would begin to build the strategy or find the resources to do such a thing. And that’s why the movement has been so powerful. It literally puts into the hands of local women leaders — many of whom didn’t consider themselves leaders until they started speaking up online and in social media and other online spaces — the ability to mount the campaign that makes sense to them. And in the way that makes sense to them, with the priorities that make sense to them. 

 

And, frankly, that’s something that’s been missing from international development, and global social change, for a long time. That’s criticism that comes from all kinds of people — those who work in the global south to global north donors — that has not been fully addressed or even begun, I would argue, to be addressed in a comprehensive way. That’s really important. 

 

So it was actually vital for us to put together a collection of countries that show that the movement was working across different contexts, different socio-economic realities, different communities, different colonial histories, different stories of conflict, different religions, different kinds of governments — everything from democracy, to authoritarian regimes. So Sweden was really important to include, because we wanted to make the point that the need is also universal, that this is not an issue that the global north has cracked the code on. Or that [the global north is] going to teach these global south countries how women can be liberated, going to come and give them this gift of white Western feminism, riding in on a white horse. That is not what it is about. It is really about women deciding for themselves — and agency, what they know needs to change. And even a place like Sweden needs systemic change; even after all the gains in terms of laws, and women’s leadership, the problem is still pervasive.

 

 

 

 

MB: And you take this broad, long, historic sweep of the women’s movement towards equality, and you believe we’re now at a point where there is a new phase in that global, historic movement.

 

MS: We do, we do. Because it used to take too long to get some of these changes. If you think about suffrage, women were sending telegrams, and there were suffrage magazines, they’re traveling by steamship. And it was very difficult for women to gather. But then you think about the modern women’s movement — just think about the women’s marches in 2017, in response to the election of this populist leader in the United States, Donald Trump — those marches were organized in a matter of weeks, and did not just happen in the United States. 

 

We write in the book how in Pakistan there was a series of Aurat marches. Aurat just means woman in Urdu. And women there in Pakistan, throughout the country, even in some of the most restrictive places, were out marching. They had a platform of what they were asking for in terms of their rights. They actually took up the slogan, My Body My Choice, which is really interesting, because of course, in the United States context, that talks about access to abortion services and reproductive health services. But for those women it really meant the right to refuse sexual harassment in the workplace, the right to not be sexually assaulted, the right to also be able to work freely, and to really have full rights in society. 

 

But it’s really been profound to see how technology has changed the movement, not only through accelerating it, but also making sure that it is a broader, more diverse movement in a way that also radically changes what’s being called for.

 

MB: Was it in Pakistan that you have the example where they also had a hashtag which was something like you eat your own food or something?

 

MS: Yes, we talked to a few incredible women in Pakistan. One who designed the posters and the street art — which is really interesting to see the role of art and expression and how we depict women — and she was talking about how that hashtag went viral and it got men so upset. The old uncles were on Pakistani TV debating this, saying this uncalled for. We talked to another woman who is a journalist there, who was talking about what the Aurat March has been really pushing for. And it even got to the point that they started their own women’s political party in Pakistan. And the organizers of that march have been able to make incredible progress in really speaking out, but also have had extreme backlash. Even this past year, members of the march were forced to go into hiding because they put out this very progressive agenda where they were also marching with transgender women and talking about LGBT equality. And so, this is really the kind of work that I think needs to have more attention paid to it. And I think it really spins on its head this idea that women in the global south are victims, are not women of agency, are not needing saving in the least. And I think those are just very old, racial tropes that we really need to confront across the board in foreign policy and in international development.

 

MB: Now, most of the voices in the book are the voices of the women on the ground and the countries that you feature. Your voice and Rachel’s voice don’t come through, other than as an enabling voice for these other women’s voices. But you do both tell your stories at the start as to why this matters to you. And your story is one of seeing a mother thrown out of a car by your father, and a lot of growing up in a situation where there was a lot of abuse of your mom by your dad. Tell us a bit more about your story. And then later you obviously worked with Malala for a number of years on her work. And she is another example of a young woman abused, nearly murdered, for her position to campaign for education for girls. Tell us why you felt drawn to write this book now?

 

MS: Yes, well, I’d say two things. First, the decision to kind of take ourselves out of the center of the book was very specific. When we actually looked across what has been written already, a lot of the books kind of take this I’m flying in, I’m on the ground, I’m in this very dangerous place [attitude]. It’s this kind of dated, and even offensive, kind of swashbuckling approach to going to these countries where people are raising their families, going to school, getting married, burying their loved ones, living their lives, just like anyone else. 

 

And for us, it was actually quite important to kind of decenter ourselves as these American experts that were coming in to prescribe what was happening or should happen. And so that was a big decision. And actually, it was the publisher that pushed us to even have an author’s note. At the beginning I was quite happy to remain silent. And that was something actually I used to always say I loved about working for Malala — I was always happiest carrying her speech for her and holding her purse as she walked into a summit. Because I truly believe it’s far overdue for the world to hear from young women from places like Pakistan, and not just for a few minutes, but at the center of global summits and important meetings at the UN and where real decisions get made that impact people’s lives. 

 

I would say that way of looking at the world comes from being a survivor of abuse myself and just knowing what it feels like to be powerless, to be in danger in places where you’re supposed to feel safe and not being safe. And having to overcome things that were said to me, and about me, and about my worth as a woman. [For example] the most important thing when I grew up would be what man married me. I write in the book about how in my community growing up in small town Virginia, when Geraldine Ferraro ran on the ticket to be Vice President of the United States, and then we had our first female Supreme Court Justice in the ‘80s, Sandra Day O’Connor, that people in my community were very open in saying that women had no place to do those things. And I take all that into the spaces of just wanting to see women uplifted and not just uplifted or empowered — because I think those words are kind of dangerous sometimes. 

 

When I worked for Malala I called it “hooray for girls” and said it was very dangerous because you would do an event with a world leader or some philanthropists and they’d be like: girls matter, girls are great, hooray for girls. And meanwhile [they] weren’t changing any policy, weren’t changing funding. Any activist knows “show me the money” is very real. Until there’s real funding and real policy change it doesn’t really mean much if someone’s just delivering some talking points that agree with you. So I think for me, it’s always wanting to see justice, wanting to see justice for girls and for women, and really, for all people, but also in a space of grace. 

 

I talk in the book about how my father passed away during the writing and I was with him and made amends to him and, I believe, received his love in return. And that we can also find a pathway to where appropriate, forgive.

 

 

 

 

MB: Did he seek your forgiveness? 

 

MS: He was so sick, but he didn’t ask for it. But I came freely giving it because there’s something about having the gift of becoming whole in your own right. And if you have the power to have agency and be your full self, and don’t use that for good and for restoration, you’re just repeating the harm that was done to you. And I really do believe in grace. 

 

And we say this even in the book, when we talk about having redress for victims of sexual violence. Tarana Burke herself, who founded the Me Too movement and is a survivor and an incredible activist, talks about restorative justice — that there has to be a pathway for people to come back into society. If there are true amends, if there’s true recompense, [there need to be ways] to come back or else we can’t bring everyone with us to change, and hopefully have unity, which is always dependent upon the most progress for everyone together.

 

But we say that that’s not always the answer. If there’s no justice in a country to begin with, for women, we wouldn’t want to skip over that to a sense of restoration. But there is a place I think, for that conversation that sometimes gets lost in like a very quick online debate about the Me Too movement.

 

MB: Yes, you mentioned the redress that is needed. And that’s one of five R’s that you recommend that we need to focus on now, if this Me Too movement is to deliver the change that ideally it will do. Can you just talk us through each of those five R’s?

 

MS:Yes, absolutely. We wanted to try to find some context or construct to make sense of this, because it’s such a big agenda. It’s like how do we further the legal, economic, political equality of women? And so, for us, the five R’s were: Redress for survivors, Reform of the law, Representation for women, Resources for implementation, and then Recalibration of social norms. 

 

So Redress means justice — and Tarana Burke herself has a survivor’s agenda that she’s put forward. And this is just really making sure that there’s a functioning and balanced legal system, one that protects the rights of the accused and survivors together. When she says “believe all women,” when Tarana has urged that, “believe all women” just means believe credible allegations, and have a credible investigation that we don’t just dismiss out of hand when women come forward. Not that we automatically assume guilt or innocence. And I think that’s an important kind of due process distinction that often also gets missed, and kind of a glib discussion of these issues. So, we want to see a legal system that works and it should be free of discrimination, it should be free of stereotypes about women. 

 

And governments have a lot of work to do, they need to put legal protections against harassment and assault into place into every country. We’re three years into the Me Too movement now, and an astounding 50 countries still have no prohibition on sexual harassment in the workplace. And, as we all know, even if there is a law, it comes down to enforcement. And, I even talked about that in my part of the book, how in my own family sometimes the police would come to my house and nothing ever got addressed. And, I think we need to find ways to make sure that police officers, those who enact these laws practically, do their jobs. And that often can happen. There’s a law in place, and when women try to go to report at a police station, they’re dismissed, not taken seriously. So we want to see that change. 

 

Building on that we just want legal reform across the board. We want to see rights and laws change so that women can have true gender equality, legal, economic, political equality. So, moving beyond laws that address justice for sexual assault, we want to see broader protections that the give women equal rights to men.

 

And then Representation is just what we all know. We don’t see as many women leading at senior levels. I think this comes up even in our workplaces. We understand that maybe there’s a lot of women represented at lower levels of an organization, but once they get to the higher levels, it’s still predominantly men. And that’s the case in political leadership, business leadership. That has to change. 

 

And then Resources. This is really just about how are global donors supporting these women that we write about in the book? And the answer is they’re not. They’re simply not. Right now less than one penny of every dollar of international aid goes to women’s rights organizations. So less than one penny of every dollar for organizations working on the rights of half the population. This is just egregious. It’s not that hard to change. Yet, it hasn’t. 

 

There are some good models that we see. In Canada, they’ve recently started up a mechanism that really prioritizes supporting local women leaders, and putting together a good committee that represents those communities, to make those decisions about who to fund. But we need to do more. Certainly here in the United States, where I sit, USAID puts in a lot of money through big contractors, and not enough money through local women leaders, and these are the women who are going to be in the community long term, they are deeply committed, they deeply understand what the needs are, and they deserve more investments. And we try to underline that throughout the book. And then for some of the countries I write about, particularly places like Egypt, where we give a tremendous amount of military aid and other aid with very little conditionality, we have to change that. And that’s another way to use resources, I would argue, in a better way to benefit these women. 

 

And then lastly, just Recalibration. And that just means, in our personal lives, in our workplaces, recalibrating how we see gender and how the genders interact. And, practically, that means things like how I raise my son, who I dedicate the book to. In the dedication I say “as he learns to be a new man”, and I meant becoming a boy, who is becoming a new man, and becoming a man in a new way. And those are the conversations we all need to have, and really pursue, and really be open to.

 

 

 

 

 

MB: Yes, reading the book, as a man — and I hope many men do read the book — it’s pretty depressing to see so many of the male responses to the Me Too movement. As I reflect on my own experience of the Me Too movement, it really led to many of the conversations that I had with friends who were women. It was shocking to me, and to a lot of other men, just how pervasive, what we probably thought were more rare events, really are. So I learned a lot during that phase of the Me Too movement. 

 

But reading your work now — noting the entrenched resistance to change that there is — I didn’t get so much of a sense of how you see, or what you’re hearing, about any positive stories about men changing their behavior. Do you think there has been a shift in male attitudes towards women’s rights as a result of the Me Too movement?

 

MS: I think that we’re in the middle of it. It was a decision to write the book at this point. At first some of our esteemed colleagues were like, Isn’t it a little too soon to start talking about this? And we wanted to make sure we were chronicling and documenting these wins that women were winning, predominantly in the global south, now, before these stories weren’t captured. Which is what we see all the time in historic accountings, [where moments like these] simply weren’t valued — unfairly and unjustly. And we wanted to make sure that it was captured now to hopefully inform more analysis and more storytelling moving forward about what happened in this particular moment. So, these stories are part of seeing the leading edge of this women’s rights movement cycle that we’re in right now. 

 

I would say, I do think it’s starting to change men’s perceptions, but social change is a long, long game. But we can also see tremendous change from generation to generation. Domestic violence used to be seen, even in the United States, and in the U.K. and other countries in Europe, as a family matter. It was a private family matter, not seen as a crime of physical assault, plain and simple. And tremendous changes have happened. Now, if someone hears a male friend of theirs was assaulting their partner, spouse, that would be, by and large, roundly condemned, man to man. And that is a big change. That is a big change. If you think about even the apartheid movement we write about in the book, in South Africa, there was tremendous change in just a generation. They are still unpacking that change, to this day, but things can shift. Gay marriage in the United States — that seemed like an impossibility. And they were even well documented debates within the gay rights community about was this pushing too hard too fast? And was this the wrong strategy, to go through the Supreme Court to try to win this right? Just go slower, maybe and we have a better chance of winning. It turns out that was the breakthrough moment. So I think things are changing. 

 

And I always think too of Malala and her father, Ziauddin. Look at his love for her and his rightly recognizing her agency. He always says he just didn’t clip her wings — that is all he did. He didn’t do anything special to help her fly, he just didn’t clip her wings as a girl. And making that space for Malala to be who she truly was, without being curtailed or shamed, or told she needed to be less than, was transformative for that family. And that’s one generation. 

 

So, I believe tremendous change can happen. I think there’s always going to be backlash initially. And when people say, oh, there’s backlash, that means it’s not succeeding, do you risk it being even worse? I would say, show me the social movement, where there was no backlash. I’ll wait for an answer, because there is none, there is not an example of a social movement that didn’t trigger backlash. Because these things feel very threatening when we start to change the structures of society.

 

MB: There was quite an interesting response that you have in the book to one of the critiques that some men have made about women who’ve named their abusers through social media, rather than going through traditional legal processes. And you suggest, actually, there is a due process issue, that there are risks of injustice there. And you raised the possibility that maybe there could be some kind of Truth and Reconciliation Commission approach to some of these issues in future. Is that something that anyone’s trying? Or is that something that’s still for the distant future?

 

That’s why the movement has been so powerful. It literally puts into the hands of local women leaders the ability to mount the campaign that makes sense to them.

 

MS: I think it’s part of this movement towards restorative justice. Which is: how do you create a space where people can admit the harm that they’ve committed, take true responsibility and make amends, and find a way to be restored back into being a member of the community? If the Truth and Justice Commission could do that, under the circumstances that it was operating in, surely we can find a way to do this work better, in the context we find ourselves in every day. I want to believe that that’s possible. And we say in the book, the reason women are naming men in these spaces is because the court system doesn’t work for them. Wouldn’t you do the same? I mean, why do unions strike? Because negotiations have broken down with the powers that be. And women if they don’t have a chance of securing justice [may see this as an alternative]. 

 

For example, in Nigeria, there are only a handful of rape convictions that have happened in Nigeria’s court systems since independence. It’s a paltry amount of convictions, less than a hundred. Clearly the system’s not working. So women are going to go into these [online] spaces, and name their accusers. Are there some cases where maybe somebody was falsely accused, and that accuser had other malicious intent? Certainly, there are some cases of that. But the overwhelming majority of these cases are legitimate, and women have not been able to pursue justice through any other mechanisms. So they are going into those spaces, because it’s the only space they have. 

 

But we do believe that there should still be due process — everyone has a right to defend themselves. And there’s a reason for that, and we support that fully. We just want women to have the chance to have a credible investigation when they come forward with allegations.

 

MB: So a couple of final questions. One is, given the audience that this podcast has, which are people who are feeling called to public service, and want to be involved in building back better, are there any particular lessons for them about how to make positive change happen?

 

MS: One thing I would just say, from my own experience, and also from the women in the book, is that please don’t wait until you feel qualified. We say in the book that many of these women are accidental heroines, and that when they posted online they did not see themselves becoming part of leading a movement. 

 

I think of women like Fakhriyya Hashim in northern Nigeria. She just posted in solidarity to another woman survivor in northern Nigeria, and did not anticipate that she would then become an organizer of protests in front of Parliament, and be fighting and winning battles to pass legislation, while helping ensure that men in political power were stepping down after having credible allegations of assaulting young women. This was not the plan when she found herself there. 

 

So, if you find yourself called to do this kind of work, I would hope that folks would just step into it. Because there’s kind of this lie in foreign policy and international development, that you have to have a million degrees and all these credentials. And I think it’s overdue that we’re starting to just really say out loud, that people are experts at their own experience and contexts. That they have lived experience that really matters. 

 

So, if you have lived experience on an issue, and feel like you can do something, just get moving. You don’t necessarily have to go to grad school. I would cheer you on if you did, but there’s so many ways to do this work. And I hope that people will feel empowered to start and not think that they have to check a certain box, or have a certain credential to begin. And if you read the book, there’s many women in these pages that are far more powerful examples than I can even begin to describe of that very thing: that you can do this now.

 

MB: So, perhaps to end, was there one of those accidental heroines, one story that has inspired you, keeps coming back to, as you go about talking about the book and then getting involved in the work of this movement?

 

MS: I think of one woman, Mozn Hassan in Egypt. She is a lawyer. And, when the uprisings started happening in 2011 in Egypt, and women were starting to get sexually assaulted by government forces — state supporting forces in Tahrir Square were very much trying to force women out of public space by assaulting them — she started trying to counsel those women, trying to support those women. Her organization Nazra took on an incredible amount of this work. She was part of the group of women that were heavily involved in trying to write the new versions of Egypt’s constitution after the uprisings in 2011. 

 

So, here’s a woman who’s trying to help other women who are survivors of sexual assault, trying to both give them comfort and recovery, but then also fighting for them legally more and more in a court of law. Then she becomes part of the group of people literally casting the future of her country after this revolution. Then with Sisi coming into power, and Egypt becoming more and more authoritarian under his, regrettable, regime, she finds herself branded an enemy of the state. And she’s accused of spreading fake news. She literally has charges entered against her for the irresponsible liberation of women — this is literally a charge that’s in a courtroom, that she’s still dealing with. She messaged me just two days ago asking for support, because she was called in yet again to be harassed by the judge on her case. She was saying, Can you help shine a bright light on what’s happening to me? She’s on a travel ban, her resources have been frozen, her bank accounts, her organization stores have been forced shut by the government. And yet, she keeps speaking out and she keeps standing up, and she’s decided not to stay silent. And so that’s a long journey from where the work started at every level — from helping survivors, to trying to re-craft the future of the country post revolution, to standing up globally and continuing to be a voice for women’s rights. And so, I don’t think that when she started her work, she expected to be doing all those things across the continuum, but she does them with so much integrity and perseverance in the face of challenges that it would make almost anyone stop. So, to me, she is one of the heroines of this book and of this work.

 

MB: Well, there are many others in your book besides her that are inspiring and doing important work. And it’s been great to chat with you about this incredible book. Thank you, and good luck with this as you share the stories in it. This is Awakening: #MeToo and the Global Fight for Women’s Rights, by Rachel Vogelstein, and my guest today, Meighan Stone. Meighan, thank you.

 

MS: Thank you so much.

 

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This transcript has been lightly edited for context and clarity. 

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