NEW YORK (AFP) – The Time’s Up movement against sexual harassment, founded a year ago, has made tangible progress in the world of showbiz and beyond – by fostering solidarity and encouraging women to speak out – but the road ahead is indeed long.
On January 1, 2018, more than 300 top women in Hollywood unveiled a manifesto for change, with the goal of “shifting our society’s perception and treatment of women,” from film sets to farms to auto plants.
Tinseltown’s A-listers followed that up with a strong sartorial statement to raise the awareness on the Golden Globes red carpet – the women wore black to drive home the message.
But for Lisa Borders, the current president and CEO of Time’s Up, the real shift came later that night when Oprah Winfrey took the stage to accept a lifetime achievement award.
“For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men,” Winfrey said to a standing ovation and even some tears in the audience.
“So I want all the girls watching here now to know that a new day is on the horizon.”
For Borders, “that was a clarion call.”
“I consider this the civil rights movement of the 21st Century,” she said this week in an interview with Marie Claire magazine.
As the Golden Globes approach once again on Sunday, what exactly has changed in a year?
Time’s Up has raised more than USD22 million for its legal defence fund, which has already helped more than 4,000 women and men who have reported sexual harassment in the workplace.
“At a public awareness perspective, we are better than we were a year ago,” said Ellen Kossek, a professor of management at Purdue University, citing the number of high-powered men who have been fired over their behaviour.
In the entertainment industry, several top-level scandals over equal pay (Claire Foy making less than her co-star on The Crown, for one) have fuelled the debate on workplace discrimination of all kinds.
According to a survey by the Centre for Study of Women in Television and Film, the proportion of women working behind the camera increased by two percentage points in 2018 – but still is at only 20 per cent.
Time’s Up, honouring its mission to look past Hollywood, has given USD750,000 to several grassroots organisations including the Alianza Nacional De Campesinas (National Farm-workers Women’s Alliance).
“There’s a lot more potential when you have the resources,” Mily Trevino-Sauceda, the Alia-nza’s Executive Director and co-founder, told AFP.
Thanks to the attention generated by Time’s Up, her group raised more than USD1 million in the past year, after years of toiling with little to no money.
The Alianza can now hire its first full-time staffers and work more closely with farm workers who are sexually abused by their employers.
“We still have very stubborn companies that think that women are the ones causing the problem,” said Trevino-Sauceda, who says she suffered abuse and harassment herself multiple times.
“But we do have certain companies that are looking at getting their supervisors, crew leaders, foremen trained on the subject but because they’re afraid.”
Kossek said in all sectors, “a lot of companies now are hiring consultants for sexual harassment training,” but there is work to be done on evaluating the effectiveness of that training.
Even if workplace behaviour is slow to evolve, the Time’s Up initiative – combined with the #MeToo movement – has freed up women to speak up.
“The women are more willing to speak out, to do interviews – not necessarily that they want their faces to be shown but sharing their stories because they know it can help others,” says Trevino-Sauceda.
For Monica Ramirez, the gender justice campaigns director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), Time’s Up has unleashed a vital public conversation.
“It’s the collective power, the collective voice that really has empowered people to begin to talk about what they have experienced,” Ramirez told AFP.
“It’s something like I have never seen before.”
Ramirez said sexual harass-ment and gender equality are inextricably linked.
“We know that women workers experience different kinds of discrimination in addition to sexual harassment,” she said.
The Time’s Up battle cry has made it to Capitol Hill, in the United States (US) where workers’ associations are fiercely lobbying lawmakers.
“This last year, what helped was that more and more organisations starting talking about how can we collaborate,” Trevino-Sauceda said. “It’s not just how can we share, but how can we partner and collaborate.”
The NDWA is looking ahead to this year’s planned introduction of a bill that would reinforce the rights of domestic workers.
One of the main sponsors is Democratic Senator Kamala Harris – a possible presidential candidate in 2020.
“Prior to the past year, I don’t think that there was a public conversation about the fact that there are domestic workers across this country who are currently denied the same protection as other workers,” Ramirez said.
She is hopeful that the new Congress, which has a record number of women, will help forward the Time’s Up movement.
“For many of us, the hope is that having more women elected, there will be positive progress for women and girls across the United States,” Ramirez said.