November 25th begins 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. We now have 16 days to speak up in a world that is readier to listen than ever before.
Gender-based violence has many faces and is experienced in many contexts with varying degrees of severity.
It happens most mornings to a garment worker in Lesotho who is coerced into sex with the security guard in order to pass through the factory gates. It happened to Jyoti Singh Pandey, the South Delhi student raped and tortured on a moving bus in 2012, later dying from her injuries. It is still happening to a 12-year-old in Niger living in fear of a man twice her age to whom she is married against her will.
While many examples are graphic and extreme, gender-based violence can also be subtle and pervasive.
It’s there in the story of the woman choosing a longer walk home from work to avoid the catcaller loitering near her apartment. It haunts the girl who panics after saying “no” to a guy who perceives her refusal as ‘playing hard to get.’ It includes the countless women who have felt forced to compromise their integrity or moral compass to advance their careers, whether on the big screen, in the boardroom, or on Capitol Hill.
As a global community, we are constantly learning about beliefs and behaviors that contribute to gender-based violence. At one point in time, the kind of behavior that would trigger the response ‘boys will be boys’ was considered acceptable; now, it is a societal norm we are unwilling to tolerate.
16 Days of Activism started as an initiative of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University and has grown into a global movement. Iconic buildings including the Parliament in Bangladesh, the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City, Table Mountain in Cape Town, and the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai will all be illuminated in orange to express their solidarity.
You can share the 16 Days of Activism campaign with your digital community through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But we need more than hashtags. Outside of the digital sphere, here are real-world things you can do to make a difference during 16 Days of Activism 2018:
Update your wardrobe. Clothes that are no longer needed in your life could make a huge difference in someone else’s. Several organizations exist to support women in achieving economic independence, break the cycle of poverty, and strengthen communities. Dress for Success has drop-off locations across the world, or you could search for a local organization accepting donations.
Support migrant women affected by the border crisis. Thousands of immigrants are deeply impacted by the border crisis exacerbated so cruelly by American officials. Organizations providing hospitality to new immigrants, asylum seekers and reunited families that have been separated in recent months welcome your support. Annunciation House, a trusted long time shelter in El Paso, Texas, is specifically requesting donations that will enable them to purchase feminine hygiene products for the hundreds of girls and women lucky enough to rest briefly and find human kindness there.
If you’re in the USA, call your members of Congress. The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 is set to run out of funding again, on December 7th. There was a major debate in Congress over the last reauthorization in 2013 – primarily over a provision to extend the law’s coverage to Native American women, immigrants, and LGBTQ women. It was ultimately given new life and signed by President Obama, but 138 Republican members of Congress voted against the reauthorization. Call your Representative and urge them to fight for a stronger VAWA.
Donate. There are literally thousands of organizations, locally, nationally, and globally, that are doing vital work to help stop gender-based violence. For example, WomenStrong International works with its partner in Kenya to support Community Action Groups against gender-based violence. In the US, the National Network to End Domestic Violence has served as a voice for millions of women, men, and children who have endured abuse for more than 25 years. All of these organizations depend on the support of people like you and me to keep their doors open.
Make time to make the difference. Giving your time is one of the most meaningful ways to impact the world. You can receive training to support someone in crisis with programs such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline. You can support safe reproductive health services by volunteering for Planned Parenthood, or you could get involved in the movement to end street harassment by getting involved with your local Hollaback chapter.