16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence

Article excerpt

On 25 November 2004, residents of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, walked the city's streets distributing white ribbons, leaflets and postcards during a public march organized by Gender and Development for Cambodia to raise awareness of violence against women. In India that evening, members of the Mumbai Violence Against Women Group held a musical concert called "Shades of Courage", immediately followed by a night-long workshop for women on violence in public spaces. At the same time nearly 9,000 miles away in the United States, the Palm Beach County Florida Working Group held a memorial breakfast and hung T-shirts bearing messages of women's experiences with violence on a clothes-line display. While Women's Aid gathered people outside the Parliament building in Ireland for a moment of silence to honour women victims of violence, the Southern Africa Media and Gender Institute prepared to hold a workshop with journalists on the portrayal of such violence in the media.

From a youth seminar in Nigeria planned by BAOBAB to an afternoon of entertainment in Jamaica hosted by the Sistren Theater Collective, from a candle-lighting ceremony in Finland organized by a coalition of women's rights groups to a video forum in Colombia arranged by Profamilia, hundreds of organizations around the world were observing the opening of the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign. An international campaign occuring every year from 25 November to 10 December, the idea was conceived in 1991 at the first annual Women's Global Leadership Institute (WGLI), sponsored by the Center for Women's Global Leadership (CWGL). Participants--23 women activists--created the 16 Days Campaign to raise global awareness that violence against women is a violation of human rights. They chose dates that would symbolically link violence against women and human rights: 25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and 10 December is International Human Rights Day.


Lori Michau, co-Director of Raising Voices, an organization in Uganda working to create and promote community-based approaches to preventing violence against women and children, emphasizes the importance of the human rights framework to the 16 Days Campaign: "A human rights framework insists that efforts to prevent violence against women are rooted in the struggle for their human rights and not seen as depending on the kindness or benevolence of men. It reinforces the empowerment and agency of women and asserts their worth as human beings. It holds the entire community accountable to a vision of equity and justice."


The Campaign also encompasses other important dates, such as 1 December--World AIDS Day--and 6 December--the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, in which a male student at the University of Montreal in Canada murdered fourteen female engineering students whom he blamed for his academic failures. Since the Campaign's inception, CWGL, which is based at Rutgers University in the United States, has documented the participation of over 2,000 organizations in 137 countries.

During the campaign, organizations around the world from the grass-roots to international levels plan innovative activities to educate people on the nature and extent of the global problem of violence against women, as well as the movement against it. Srichandra Venkataramanan of Swadhina, a women's and children's organization in India, says: "The key to any form of activism is to make the people and the society aware that there is a problem and that the solution lies in us ... the [16 Days] Campaign against Gender Violence has helped us to make people aware that violence against women is not a social norm and that the entire world is today in an active campaign to end violence against women."

Historically, the Campaign has been instrumental in using a human rights framework to draw global attention to violence against women. …