Throughout the month of March, in recognition of International Women’s History Month and to celebrate our Herstory theme, we’re celebrating inspirational women who have made an impact. Here, we highlight Tarana Burke who with just two small words launched an international movement.
Back in 2006 when Tarana Burke created the “metoo” hashtag, she could never have foreseen that over a decade later, it would be used by a famous actress to bring forward what would turn out to be a series of allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Perhaps most shocking of all was how many people came forward once the floodgates opened proving that sexual assault has permeated all parts of our society and is no respecter of fame, wealth or class. The ubiquity of #metoo speaks to the very heart of what Burke was trying to achieve when she founded #metoo. She hoped to unite victims of sexual assault by giving them a space to share their experiences and feel less alone. Utilising a theory of “empowerment through empathy” her bravery in coming forward with her own story encouraged many others to come forward and tell theirs too.
Born in the Bronx New York in 1973, Burke has been organising in her community since the late 1980s.She has a special affinity with young girls and women who have been subjected to rape and sexual asault having been a victim of both herself as a child. Rather than allow these experiences to diminish her, she chose to turn her trauma into something positive by working to improve the lives of young girls particularly those in marginalised groups. As a young girl, she joined a youth development organisation called 21st century. She launched initiatives around issues including racial discrimination, housing inequality and economic justice. Her commitment to community organising and to getting a solid education led her to Alabama State University, a historically black institution, where she continued her advocacy work.
As #metoo has come into use around the world, Burke’s face is now as recognisable as many celebrities. In 2017, she formed part of a group of eminent female activists called “the silence breakers” who Time magazine named as their person of that year and in 2019, she was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize.
Today Burke is involved in a number of initiatives to support sexual assault victims. In 2006, she launched Just Be Inc. an organisation inspired by a meeting she had with a young girl in 1997 who, like Burke, had been sexually abused. Wishing she could have done more to connect with that young woman, Burke created Just Be Inc. to promote the wellness of young female minorities aged 12 to 18. She is also the Senior Director for Girls for Gender Equity in Brooklyn which supports the development of young women of colour.