: Meduza: The woman who wasn't 'afraid to say it'

16:04 Jul. 11, 2016

Meduza: The woman who wasn't 'afraid to say it'

Anastasiya Melnychenko (Facebook)

Anastasiya Melnychenko explains her campaign to get Ukrainians and Russians talking about sexual violence

For several days, thousands of Ukrainian and Russian Facebook users have joined a movement that goes by the hashtag #ImNotAfraidToSayIt (#яНебоюсьСказати in Ukrainian and #яНебоюсьСказать in Russian).

The idea of the flashmob is that people openly discuss incidents where they were targeted by sexual, physical, or psychological violence. The woman behind the movement, the Ukrainian activist Anastasiya Melnychenko, spoke to Meduza about how she got the idea for the campaign, and why she thinks it's become so popular in the post-Soviet space.

Read also #IAmNotAfraidToSayIt: Ukrainian social media users break the silence on sexual violence

Everybody is calling me a journalist, but that's not what I am. I work as a journalist for a long time, but for the past two years I've headed the social organization "Studena," where we focus particularly on providing psychological aid to those who have suffered in the military conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The idea for the campaign (I don't call it a "flashmob") arose after I read a discussion where I saw people telling a rape victim that she was to blame. In our country, and yes generally throughout the post-Soviet space, instead of unequivocally blaming the rapist, people immediately start asking what the woman did wrong. They want to know what is wrong with her. Maybe she was wearing a short skirt? Maybe she was walking home too late? Or maybe she was drunk? In the end, a woman is guilty simple because she was born a woman. 

I raised this discussion on my own [Facebook] page, and I got a lot of feedback from men who also hold this view. They wrote that a woman, for instance, should be able to defend herself. But this is all nonsense—I practice martial arts myself, but I wouldn't be able to fight off an enormous guy. We [women] are physically weaker.

I talk to women every day, and I know how widespread the phenomena of sexual harassment and rape are. And I can't say that the campaign is against this, exactly. What it's against is the objectification of women, and the treatment of women as sexual objects. I wanted to show that women face harassment regardless of their age, clothing, or what time they decide to walk home. For me, my first post was mostly just an emotional reaction slamming what I'd read from men. But then lots of men started saying that they don't think women are to blame.

Why this hashtag? It's a forceful phrase. It says that a woman shouldn't feel fear or shame for the things that happen to her. Because shame signifies guilt, and we're told to believe that it's the woman's fault.

I'm very happy that men have started joining the campaign. Because any form of violence is wrong. You can't say that gender-motivated violence is bad, but other kinds are okay. It's just that I'm someone who works with women, so I talk more about women's rights.

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