16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence
By Jennifer Pillinger-Melnick
Introduction to the 16 days of activism campaign
At this very moment activists, organisations, and governments across the world are engaging in the 16 days of activism campaign in order to step-up efforts to end violence against women and gender minorities. The 16 days campaign runs every year from the 25th of November,which is the International Day Against Violence Against Women, and ends on December 10, International Human Rights Day. The annual campaign seeks to push gender-based violence (GBV) to the forefront of public conscience and the top of political agendas. It is a time to analyse where we are at in the fight to overcome gender discrimination, and to envision new ways forward, with innovative strategies and plans to end violence against women. Above all, it is a time for action.
Selecting effective action strategies requires an understanding of the root causes, systems and ideologies that support violence against women, and action must target these systems as well as the forms of gender violence produced by them.
The theme of this year’s campaign, “let’s challenge militarism and end gender-based violence!”, highlights the importance of understanding how militaristic systems and ideologies contribute towards violence against women. Researcher Anand Pawar, director of SAMYAK, India, explains the connection between militarism and patriarchy by showing how masculinity and the military are aligned by their shared values and characteristics, such as power, dominance, destruction, hierarchy, etc. Militarism celebrates physical dominance and advocates violent strategies as solutions to problems. We see it everywhere, from the soldiers in our armies to the stars of movies: fighters, warriors, and soldiers with guns, swords and Kung-Fu are the heroes, with violence as their strategy. Violence is not only acceptable, but celebrated, with men as its primary agents: the image of the soldier or warrior is the glorified epitome of masculinity. With violence being an important trait of masculinity, and by extension patriarchy, it is little surprise that we see this playing out in all forms of violence against women and gender minorities.
Forms of GBV
Some of the forms of GBV that we see include domestic violence, child marriage, sexual abuse, human trafficking, ethnic cleansing and female genital mutilation, to name just a few. We also see systemic forms of violence and discrimination where women are under-represented in certain occupations, under-paid and under-listened to, or are relegated to the domestic sphere entirely.
In the home, women are the primary victims of domestic abuse. Almost half of all women killed, are killed by an intimate partner or family member, according to one estimate (1). Where firearms are available in situations of intimate partner violence (IVP), the risk of murder increases dramatically by up to 272% (2). Countless more suffer in silence, or persevere through forms of emotional torture too non-physical to be declared violent.
In war women are systematically raped, their sexual organs mutilated, and have their babies taken from their wombs. These women may also find themselves needing to offer sexual favours in return for protection or to have needs met. When these things happen, they are often rejected by their husbands, and ostracized by communities. This is even more likely to be the case if they fall pregnant after being raped. They are treated as weapons of war: these acts shatter families and communities, and so they are an effective way for perpetrators to destroy the enemy (3).
As this year’s theme demonstrates, challenging the system and ideology of militarism is one way of tackling the roots that support violence against women. We have to understand that if militarism and gender violence are mutually constituted, then so are peace and gender equality. In order to challenge militaristic approaches, the presence and, crucially, the integration of women’s perspectives in the peace and security framework is essential. In the same way that masculinity, patriarchy, the military and violence are associated, so feminism, non-violence, and equality are associated: studies have shown that where women contribute to peace processes they are more likely to be successful. In turn, research by Åsa Ekvall has found that the best indicators of violent conflict are women’s security, family law and polygamy. Thus, where women’s security is prioritised there is also a lower level of conflict and war.
This strong relationship between violence against women and violent conflict should lead us to prioritise women’s needs and contributions in the peace and security sector. One way of doing this is through strengthening implementation of UNSCR 1325. Another opportunity is the post-2015 development agenda, in which peace and security are still under discussion and thus open to formative input. We can also promote nonviolence, campaign for tighter legislation regarding the arms trade and sale of small arms, and campaign for greater awareness and measures for women in conflict and post-conflict conditions.
These, of course, are long term strategies that need to be supported by on-going efforts and activities. This brings us back to the 16 days of activism; a time to start, strengthen or increase these activities. For example, Amnesty International is calling for people totake action by writing to key decision makers in various parts of the world to address known gender-based human rights violations (4). We can also engage in activities to raise awareness and share information, such as through the use of social media, conferences and events. We can draw attention to GBV issues through mass action, marches, and enlisting the help of the media to publicise information and events and highlight GBV instances. Finally, we all have agency as individuals to act against any violence we see or suspect, by stopping or reporting it, and we each have a responsibility to educate our own circles of influence about GBV.
We should remember that whatever efforts are made during the 16 days should not be once-off initiatives, but be done with a view to continuing and strengthening them. With change that comes slowly, and a problem that pervades so many aspects of life around the globe, persistence is vital. We have to treat the symptoms and their causes, and we have to balance focussed effort with a broad enough perspective to transform the entire system that supports gender-based violence.