Social media: A platform for feminist activism and apathetic mockery

Young Talk

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In January of this year, a 20-year-old Jordanian woman, Layan, posted videos of herself on Instagram, where she pleaded for safety. She stated that she had endured years of abuse at the hands of her family and had been routinely harassed by her brothers. Layan decided to flee the country and posted the video, which quickly went viral, as a cry for help asking for intervention and security. Despite the video’s wide circulation, cynicism quickly flooded the comments, and various influencers began expressing their disbelief in her story, rather than concern. In a since deleted video, a local news site published a video of a “comedian” mocking the victim, and the issue was very quickly shifted from addressing violence against women, to dismissal and absolute ridicule.اضافة اعلان

Social media and the power of influencers seem to fall on two very different sides of the spectrum. On one hand, there is a platform for voicing opinions, a space for youth to fight injustice and bigotry. On the other, there is also a platform for uncensored misogyny, where women are openly laughed at, even when they are beaten, mutilated, and murdered.

According to a report by Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, women in Jordan reported about 6,965 cases to the social service offices of the Family Protection Department in 2019. The rates of so-called honor killings, domestic abuse cases, and gender based violence have skyrocketed, only amplified under COVID lockdowns as women are locked in with their abusers. Jordan saw myriad horrifying cases which initiated both physical and virtual protests by feminists exhausted by the lack of regulation and legal protection of women.

After the tragic incident of Fatima, a woman whose eyes were gouged out by her husband and was left to bleed in front of her children, a protest was organized demanding justice and legislative reform. Social media responses to the protest, however, were almost overwhelmingly offensive — protesters were called sexist slurs, and a horrific crime was reduced to sarcasm.

Youth have control of social media, so why is the dominant narrative still vastly patriarchal, aggressive, and outdated? Many virtual platforms continue to make light of such drastic matters and use battered women as the butt of the joke. This form of “humor” enables the motives of domestic violence and feels the need to defend and protect the reputation of abusers rather than calling them out. Sadly, women themselves often partake in this mockery and narrative as a result of internalized misogyny, justifying the violence by victim blaming.

Despite the backlash however, it is undeniable that social media also has a very significant role in achieving social justice. The heartbreaking murder of Ahlam, a woman who was killed by her father, who then proceeded to drink a cup of tea next to her lifeless body, led to social media outrage where the hashtag #صرخات_احلام or “the screams of Ahlam” started trending. Online petitions for legislative reform began circulating, calling for the amendments of articles 98 and 99 of the Penal Code, which reduce the sentences of those who kill in the name of “honor”, as well as Article 52, which allows families to halt legal action and the implementation of punishments, thereby taking power away from the abused. Various organizations also partake every year in the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign, during which they use their social media platforms solely to highlight this issue.

Women have a long way to go in achieving equity in Jordan, as various factors contribute to their treatment as second class citizens. In 2018, the World Economic Forum reported on the wide gender gap in Jordan, stating that labor participation among women is below 15 percent, compared to around 60 percent for men, among other alarming statistics. The report ranks Jordan at number 138 out of 149 countries in terms of gender parity.

The question remains: How many incidents will it take for change to take place? How many more women must die before the paradigm shifts, or for the situation to be taken seriously? Social media figures hold the potential to greatly influence or disrupt the narrative. The issue is however, that the wrong voices are being listened to, and the rest are being willfully ignored.

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