Honoring Monica Lewinsky

Monica_LewinskyLest you think she is an unlikely honoree, Monica Lewinsky’s anti-bullying work resonates deeply with our work in Project Kesher. According to the World Health Organization, 11% of children age 11 -13 experience online harassment, with the European average of cyber-bullied young people standing at 3.3%. These encounters can have profound real-world consequences for those who experience online harassment directly, ranging from mental or emotional stress to reputational damage or even fear for personal safety. We hear reports from the regions we work in that cyberbullying is a serious issue affecting children, teens and adult women. We hear reports of suicides of young women who have been shamed on the Internet, part of the intense taboo and shame surrounding women’s bodies and sexuality in Russian society. This week, Vlada Nedak, the Project Kesher leader from Kriviy Rih, Ukraine, emailed us saying, “Women are inhibited by shame. Whether it is discussing our periods, breast cancer, postpartum depression, or gender violence. We have to reclaim our voices if we are going to make change.” Monica Lewinsky models this strength and self-preservation. She has used her notoriety to become a very credible spokeswoman against bullying and shame. She has written that, ”Throughout history, women have been traduced and silenced. Now, it’s our time to tell our own stories in our own words.”

Stigma around sexuality, abuse, mental illness, and just having a female body leads to attempts to control women, utilizing shame to keep us down. Waking up from the pain of stigma to see our commonality, and fight another day is where global feminists meet. In Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and Israel, Project Kesher-trained leaders overcome great odds to break barriers as they take on taboo issues like breast cancer, bullying, sexual assault, domestic violence and mental illness on behalf of the most vulnerable populations. Our activists have been breaking the cycle of secrecy and shame with sisterhood and education for 30 years.

So it’s no surprise that the response from the Project Kesher community to Lewinsky’s upcoming appearance at the benefit has been gratifyingly warm. Many of our supporters believe that Monica’s story is especially important right now, as she re-emerges as an activist and advocate with the rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. 

In 2018, Monica Lewinsky wrote in Vanity Fair, “Isolation is such a powerful tool to the subjugator… One of the most inspiring aspects of this newly energized movement is the sheer number of women who have spoken up in support of one another.” We’re looking forward to supporting the very admirable work of Monica Lewinsky next month.