Today, December 10th, is International Human Rights Day and the end of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence between this anniversary and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25th. These 16 days mark an important opportunity for international, national and local actors, organizations and governments to come together to speak out against gender-based violence perpetrated against women and girls.
The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women was established as an official UN day of awareness in 1999, commemorating an unofficial day of awareness on violence against women in Latin American countries inspired by the anniversary of the assassination of the Mirabal Sisters by the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic in 1960. The story of the Mirabal Sisters is an inspirational example of women standing against violence and refusing to let their voices be silenced by tyranny in a time where female voices were commonly ignored or silenced. Their story and the 16 Days of Activism bring into focus the current voices of the movement to end all types of violence against women – perpetrated by the state, by rebel forces, by intimate partners, by family members, by anyone, anytime, anywhere.
Within the past few years, there has been a steady increase and diversification in the voices against violence and discrimination perpetrated on the basis of gender. These voices include a new focus on campaigns to include men and boys as important partners and voices to stop violence against women and girls, as well as a new agency, UN Women, to unite the voices working on gender equality and empowerment within the UN. Additionally, increasing awareness around issues facing women and girls related to discrimination and violence are steadily being incorporated into development work, peace and reconciliation efforts, and global health and education initiatives.
While voices in the movement to end gender-based violence are obviously growing, their resonance throughout society is still fairly stagnant. While working on issues of gender-based violence I have struggled with this frustrating reality when explaining why the prosecution of domestic violence crimes are important to family members of victims bent on “keeping it in the family”; when presenting information on the violent nature of sexual exploitation to individuals who still think pimps are cool and prostitutes are criminals; and even when taking a master’s course on global issues where asked to select the most important issues facing the world today – my class of graduate students put forth the important issues of non-proliferation, climate change and development; yet, not a single person proposed the issue of gender-based violence and I had to defend the issue on its merits as one necessitating global attention.
Luckily, I won. But this got me wondering why in this day and age (not in the ’90s when the stop violence against women movement was just getting its footing) are we still complacent about discrimination against half the world’s population? Why aren’t people more outraged about this issue, which low estimates suggest affects 1 in 3 women globally with regard to gender violence (approximately more than 1 billion individuals – high estimates are up to 70% of women) and every single woman with regard to gender discrimination?
And why aren’t the voices of survivors and those who advocate on their behalf heard more frequently in the media, through non-profits and in governments and inter-governmental agencies? This is not to say that survivor and advocate voices are not present in the movement, but from my own experience working on these issues, the most empowering advocates and survivors I’ve met don’t necessarily have a way to express their opinions, tell their stories or call others to action to end violence against women and girls.
This blog is meant to do just that – give a voice to the everyday advocates working in the trenches to end violence and to survivors of gender-based violence and discrimination. This blog is also meant to provide a place to actively participate in the fight against gender-based violence through education and awareness-raising. So, welcome to the Voices Against Violence Project and Happy International Human Rights Day! As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously said at the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, “women’s rights are human rights” and we can do more to make that message and the message to stop violence heard by bringing our voices together against violence.