Real-World Things You Can Do During 16 Days of Activism

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.

WomenStrong learns from local Community Action Group in Kisumu, Kenya

How You Can Help End Violence Against Women

Anyone who’s been watching the news lately is finding it impossible to ignore a very painful, destructive reality: one in three women worldwide face gender-based violence at some point in their lives.

Based on what CARE has seen over almost 75 years working with women and girls in the world’s most vulnerable communities, we know that in some contexts – especially humanitarian crises – that staggering number is even higher.

In emergency contexts where social networks are lost or strained, women and girls too often become targets of violence and abuse – like sexual violence as a weapon of war, exploitation and harassment as refugees, domestic violence and abuse,  and child marriage in the upheaval of displacement.  And when it comes to the assistance that impacts them, they are frequently kept out of the decision-making process.

But we also know that’s not the end of the story. While women and girls disproportionately face violence, they also are often the key to their families’ survival. We’ve seen over and over that in emergencies, women embody strength,  perseverance, and resilience. Faced with the horrors of war or the devastation of natural disaster, women hold families and communities together, carrying children to safety and keeping them fed, and rebuilding shattered lives as refugees in a new land if they are unable to return home.

Women are also their own best advocates. Women and girls everywhere are fighting for safety, opportunity, and a say in their futures. This year, in preparation for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, CARE Action (CARE’s advocacy arm) is standing with the women and girls who are championing their own rights and keeping their communities together in the face of terrible atrocities, and calling special attention to gender-based violence in emergencies.

From November 25th (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to December 10th (Human Rights Day), CARE Action will be taking part in this global campaign that brings together people across hundreds of organizations and nearly every country in the world, all with one mission – to eradicate all forms of gender-based violence everywhere. We’re working together, stepping up advocacy efforts and promoting policies to eradicate pervasive and rampant violence against women including domestic violence, rape and other forms of sexual assault, trafficking, psychological abuse, honor killings, child and forced marriage and pervasive gender-based harassment.

The statistics surrounding GBV are staggering and we’ll be highlighting them throughout the 16 Days:

  • At least one in three women and one in five men worldwide will experience GBV
  • As many as 35 percent of women have experienced intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lives
  • At least one in three women will be beaten, raped or otherwise abused and in most cases, the abuser is part of her family
  • 15 million girls will be married before the age of 18 every year

CARE will also be amplifying stories of the grit and resilience of women like Gambo and Hadja, who fled extreme violence in Northern Nigeria and took refuge in Niger with nothing but the clothes on their backs. With a few blankets, some netting and basic supplies, they’re making a life for themselves and their children. Or women like Stépha Rouichi, Advocacy Manager for CARE DRC who wrote about the under-staffed health centers in the DRC’s Kasai province, where a recent survey indicates that more than 1,400 survivors of sexual violence – mostly between the ages of 12 and 17 years old – have accessed services in the past year.

Finally, we’ll be urging action through the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), recently introduced in the U.S. Senate. This legislation would strengthen U.S. leadership and empower women and girls in the fight against gender-based violence. There’s so much we all can do to help stop the injustice. Supporting IVAWA is one of them.

To join us in our campaign and lend your voice…

  1. Follow CARE Action on Facebook and Twitter
  2. Check out careaction.org
  3. If you’re in the US, sign our petition and share using the hashtag #16Days…
  4. …and tag your Members of Congress on Facebook and Twitter and urge them to support and pass IVAWA

The scourge of gender-based violence is global problem that we all can and must help to solve. 16 Days of Activism is an opportunity to educate yourself, educate your communities, and take meaningful action. Join us!

Why you should care about GamerGate

And what it means for global violence against girls and women.

Shortly after publishing, someone under the name "Gaimerg8," posted what they claimed was her home address, also known as “doxxing”.
Shortly after publishing, someone under the name “Gaimerg8,” posted what they claimed was her home address, also known as “doxxing”.

Last week, actress and gamer Felicia Day posted an entry on her blog – “Crossing the Street” –to share her concerns that an online gaming campaign has made her fearful to engage with a culture she truly enjoys. Knowing full well that her words could (and now have) result in an outpour of angry, abusive, and downright vicious attacks, Day’s post has caught attention from the media struggling to understand the ugly phenomenon known as GamerGate – an online movement of gamers openly harassing female bloggers, developers, and critics with violent threats of rape and death. Yes, as women speak out against the violence, victimization, and inequality in video games, the response has been actual violence, harassment, and real threats to their safety.

Grand Theft Auto 5: @GTAForums
Grand Theft Auto 5, Credit: GTAForums

The objectification of women in entertainment is nothing new. One needn’t look very far to see over-sexualized, scantily clad women being dominated by men. Flip through the closest magazine or look at the nearest billboard. Within the gaming culture, women have expressed increasing concern from the way female gamers are treated, to the actual representation of women in games and the amount of gratuitous violence and commodification of female characters. In the popular action-adventure game series, Grand Theft Auto, male characters are free to not only engage in sexual encounters with prostitutes, but also kill them and take their money back. In September, Japanese developers announced a new head-mounted display game that includes a pair of realistic fake breasts that players can grip as they look at a virtual image of a girl whom they can sexually assault. Yet, those who feel uncomfortable with the alarming direction games are headed are not only being shut out of the conversation, they are now being physically threatened. Ironic, isn’t it?

As we grapple with the reality that violence against women, sexual assault, and the objectification of women’s bodies continues to be deemed as an appropriate and acceptable form of “entertainment” in Western countries, the latest conversation around GamerGate highlights a global reality: physical, sexual, and emotional violence threatens every single girl and woman, every single day of her life. According the latest report from UNICEF, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence every 10 minutes somewhere in the world. Yet, these deaths represent only the most extreme assaults in a long continuum of violence faced by girls on a daily basis, usually at the hands of those closest to them.

Credit: Dolce&Gabana
Credit: Dolce&Gabana

Is this the world we want our girls to grow up in? A world where 1 in 4 women is physically or sexually abused during her pregnancy? A world where more than 39,000 girls under the age of 18 experience early or forced marriage? A world where 98 percent of the 4.5 million forced into sexual exploitation are girls and women? A world where two young girls in search of a toilet can result in brutal gang rape and death? A world where violence is the second leading cause of death among adolescent girls globally?

Our girls deserve a world where they can transition into womanhood without sexuality and gender roles dominating and defining the trajectory of their lives.

For many girls, their first experience of sexual intercourse is unwanted or coerced. Those married as young brides face especially high risks of physical, emotional, and sexual violence along with limited to no personal freedom or decision-making power. The continued lowered status of girls in our global society, coupled with the tendency of men and boys to exert power, are key factors in the high rates of violence experienced by adolescent girls. And when these realities carry into adulthood, those patterns of violence and limitations become a burden for every generation.

Next month the world will commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – a reminder that violence against women is a human rights violation that impedes global progress in many areas, including poverty combating HIV/AIDS, and peace and security, as well as a call for action. So what can we do? Here are some ideas:

  • Raise awareness: Participate in Orange Day – November 25th – by wearing something orange to highlight the calls for the eradication of violence against women. You can submit a photo online with the message, “I wear orange because…”
  • Continue the movement: Join ongoing campaigns like VDAY and ManUp working to engage youth, advance gender equality, and transform communities, nations, and the world.
  • Raise your voice: Look for public rallies and events, such as “Take Back the Night”, raise money for community-based rape crisis centers or women’s shelters, or organize a fundraiser to benefit those working to end all forms of gender violence.
  • Educate yourself: Attend programs, take classes, watch films, and read articles and books about multicultural masculinities, gender inequality, and the root causes of gender violence. Educate yourself and others!
  • Engage more than just girls and women: Check out organizations like MenEngage who work with men and boys to promote gender equality.

We have the ability to end violence against girls and women, not overnight, but in a generation. To do it, we need a global shift in the attitudes towards women, and that means teaching boys and men to challenge and change attitudes around violence and sexism. We must continue to educate and work with young boys and girls to promote respectful relationships and gender equality. And we must not wait for an annual observance to begin. The time to end violence against girls and women is NOW.

I am Angry – And You Should be Too.

November 25th marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. There is only one thing wrong about that – the fact that we have a need for such a day. It makes me angry.

VAW_Prevelance
Infographic by WHO

I am angry, because according to the World Health Organization, 35% of women and girls around the world will experience intimate partner or non-partner violence in their lifetime. WHO is calling this ‘a global health problem of epidemic proportions’. I am angry because in the US, every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted – and nine out of ten victims are women. I am angry because in India, women and girls have a bulls-eye on their backs whenever they step outside their homes – and too often also within their homes. I am angry because there is an endless number of such examples, from all over the world. While the reasons behind violence against women and girls, as well as the form that such violence takes, vary between countries, one thing is common to all women and girls regardless of location:

No woman or girl is immune to this epidemic of violence.

The situation of my home country, Finland, also makes me angry. According to Naisten Linja (“Women’s Line”), an organization that works to prevent violence against women and girls and to help victims of such violence, over 40% of Finnish girls and women above the age of 15 have faced physical or sexual violence or have been threatened with violence. I’m angry because the risk for Finnish women to face domestic violence is twice the average of the European Union. Another thing that makes me angry is the backlash that this Day causes every year: what about men? Isn’t violence against men as important, why are there so many resources directed towards eliminating violence against women – why aren’t men getting the same attention? Of course the violence men and boys experience is equally important – but more often than not, it is not a case of gender-based violence. Gender-based violence and discrimination are issues that stem from the fundamental belief that the female sex is of lesser value, of lesser importance, than the male. Gender-based violence tells women and girls:

You are not worthy – you are weaker, less important, meaningless, powerless.

8051561659_ecb359d14d_b
Photo by Shareef Sarhan; courtesy of UN Women

Gender-based violence doesn’t just cause physical pain and damage – it breaks, destroys, shames, violates, dehumanizes. Men might be over-represented as, for example, victims of gun violence – but this is not necessarily an example of gender-based violence. Almost always, the victim of domestic and sexual violence is a girl or a woman, and females across cultures experience more gender-based discrimination and inequality than males. It is important to recognize these distinctions, so that we can pinpoint the fundamental reasons behind violence against women and girls properly and therefore also respond to them with the right approaches and tools.

We all should be infuriated because images of violated and dominated bodies of women are used to sell everything from cars to shoes to men’s suits and perfumes. We should be livid because of what Google’s search engine reveals about the attitudes towards women and girls. We should feel enraged over the fact that when media reports rape cases, what the victim was wearing or whether she had been drinking is still often mentioned in the opening paragraph. Finns should be furious over the fact that the number of reported rapes in Finland has nearly doubled in the past ten years. We should be fuming over the fact that there are countries where rape victims are forced to marry their rapists, and countries where a husband can’t rape his wife because under the law, marriage is considered to equal “consent”. We should be enraged for the fact that freedom of speech is used as a justification for spreading images of bruised, battered and violated bodies of women and girls in social media, with captions such as “next time she’ll stay in the kitchen” – but images of breastfeeding mothers get censored, because they are considered offensive. Violence against women is a global phenomenon – an epidemic – that has become a tool for power, a tactic for war, a marketing strategy, form of entertainment, punch line of a joke. Those are reasons for being enraged, furious, angry, not only today, but every single day. Violence against women is a human rights violation, and there is never, ever any justification or excuse for it. November 25th also started a global campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, and there is plenty of work to be done. This issue touches us all – based on statistics, it is likely that we all know a woman or a girl who has faced violence – or that we ourselves are those victims.

Orange Your World in 16 days - Image courtesy of UN Women
Orange Your World in 16 days – Image courtesy of UN Women

I am infuriated, I am enraged – but I won’t take out that anger by attacking someone else, I won’t threaten or verbally abuse people online, I won’t punch anyone, and I won’t forcefully take something that isn’t mine. Instead, I will gather and harness that anger, and try to turn it into fuel for something positive. I will try to turn it into action, and from there into change. Will you do that too?

A version of this article was originally published in Finnish by Kepa, an umbrella organization for Finnish civil society organizations working on global development issues.