NEWS
08/03/2018 07:00 GMT | Updated 08/03/2018 11:58 GMT

How #MeToo Changed Our Lives: 'We Have Permission To Speak'

On International Women's Day, women tell us just how important the movement has been

Women at the heart of the #MeToo movement have spoken to HuffPost UK about how they have been empowered to change their lives thanks to the strength and solidarity of the campaign.

The #MeToo hashtag emerged in October in the wake of the allegations of rape and sexual harassment against media mogul Harvey Weinstein, encouraging women to speak out about their experiences.

The response was unprecedented. Millions shared their stories, revealing what many women already knew - that sexual harassment is present in all parts of society.

Speaking to HuffPost for International Women’s Day, journalist Jane Merrick, activist and author Winnie M Li, actor Nina Millns and others said the movement will be a catalyst for change. 

Millns said the mass of revelations had “shed a light on a huge, dark aspect of society. It means that we have to reassess everything.”

A victim of sexual violence herself, Millns said the movement had given her “permission to speak about this unspeakable thing.” She said what was most important was for the conversation to now translate into changing policy, law, infrastructure “to really tackle this”. 

“Because at the moment, no one is winning.”

On Thursday thousands of women are expected to strike for International Women’s Day after a momentous year for women’s rights, which saw the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements gain global backing, highlighting issues of  sexual violence and inequality.

The organisers of the strike, which includes the campaign group Sisters Uncut, said the event would be a day of “feminism for those millions of women at the bottom”. 

Winnie M Li, who was raped twice while on a walk through Colin Glen Forest Park in Belfast in 2008, said #MeToo meant she now longer felt “so alone or isolated”. 

“One of the better outcomes of the Me Too movement is that there is now sort of a collective voice for survivors. It’s not just individuals trying to make their voice heard,” she told HuffPost. 

Jane Merrick, a British journalist who in November revealed that the former UK defence secretary Michael Fallon “lunged” at her after a lunch meeting, said the movement had provided her with a meaningful platform. 

“I felt like I needed to come forward to protect other women,” she told HuffPost UK. 

The “me too” hashtag was first used by activist Tarana Burke in October and has since been posted online millions of times, trending in an estimated 85 countries including the US, India and Pakistan. 

Jumaan Short, an actor who worked with Weinstein, told HuffPost UK that the #MeToo would allow her to “do something positive” with her experiences of harassment. “Now I’ve got balls. I’m happy to say [if] something is wrong.

“I can help other people. Because looking back, I didn’t have anyone to tell me it was wrong. I didn’t know the difference.”

According to organisers, 7,000 people have pledged to go on strike on Thursday in the UK, with 2,000 protestors due to meet in central London. The UK will be one of 56 countries to take part in the walkout.