“The first campaign was in 1991,” remembers Charlotte Bunch, who was part of a team of 25 women from around the world who came together at the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute at the Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA. “We were trying to link violence against women with human rights, and somebody said, "the Latin American women have declared International Day Against Violence on November 25th, and we've linked that to Human Rights Day, and that's 16 days.” That’s how the first 16 Days of Activism started, narrates Bunch. The campaign launched a petition that thousands of activists around the world signed, putting violence against women on the agenda of the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, Austria.
With 1 in 3 women and girls worldwide still experiencing violence, the need for action is urgent. We asked activists from around the world for their advice on what each of us can do in our lives, in our homes and communities today and every day.
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“Wherever you are, take one simple action: Speak up. If you have experienced violence, you can speak up about your own experience. Speak up (even) if you haven't experienced violence. Speak up when you hear someone's story of violence and ask what you can do to help, how you can help that person get out of the situation. Speak up when you hear people joking about violence against women, and say, "That's not funny. That's a serious problem." And to speak up effectively, you also have to learn more about the violence that exists in your community. People need to speak up about the violence in their own lives, in their own community, in their own neighbourhood, family, and extended community first. As you do that, you can see linkages to violence against women in other places.”
- Charlotte Bunch, the United States of America
Charlotte Bunch is an activist, writer, teacher and organizer in feminist social justice and human rights movements. She is founding director and senior scholar at the Center for Women's Global Leadership and was part of the team that created the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence there, 30 years ago.
Teaching the next generation
“Gender-based violence—sometimes it affects you and you don’t want to talk about it, or sometimes you can’t relate to it because you don’t understand the gravity of the situation. But the fundamental thing that we are talking about here is human rights – the right to be free, safe, and be respected. We need everyone on board because this is not a minority issue, it affects everyone.
For me, education is crucial. After campaigning on this issue for nearly two years now, I am seeing the whole picture. It’s an intricate issue, and there are so many layers where we need to address it. But education is where everything begins, and that’s where discrimination begins. How we raise our children determines whether they become respectful citizens who treat others with dignity and respect their human rights. It’s about how we are teaching the next generation.”
- Cindy Sirinya Bishop, Thailand
Cindy Sirinya Bishop a UN Women Regional Ambassador for Asia and the Pacific. She is a Thai supermodel, actor, TV host and activist, who challenges social attitudes around sexual violence and the treatment of victims.
“To truly shift culture, we must teach gender equality from a young age. Curriculum about gender-equal rights and responsibilities should be taught in schools, so that young people are more responsible and aware as they grow up.
It’s difficult to get people to understand another person’s experience and accept it, especially in communities that are deeply rooted in their traditions. To change people’s mindsets about gender equality, we listen closely, identify the gaps in their perspectives, and then engage them [in conversations].”
- Saif Dabbas, Jordan
Saif Dabbas is a member of the HeForShe campaign in Jordan and has been a feminist advocate since age 14. He believes youth should be at the forefront of the gender equality movement.
“It starts with us. If we "set off the alarm" every time we hear screams or cries in the apartment next to ours, if we called the police and other competent institutions, if we gave a hand to the victim, comforted her, and listened to her, we would already be helping.
If, in addition, we did not blame the victim, if we didn’t succumb to the stereotype that the woman had provoked her husband or partner, rapist, abuser – we would make more contribution. That's something each of us can do.
We need to understand that men and women are not equally at risk and that no woman is to blame for being a victim of violence. There is no justification for beatings, psychological torture, or harassment. We need to teach our daughters and sons about (violence against women), and then spread awareness among friends, colleagues, on social networks. In every conversation.
- Ivana Mastilović Jasnić, Serbia
Ivana Mastilović Jasnić is a journalist who has led the way in reporting on stories of sexual harassment in Serbia, sparking a #MeToo movement in the region
Calling on men and boys and leaving no one behind
“We need to promote and fight for intersectional approaches that include women and LGBT people in all their diversity: trans women, lesbians, queers, non-binary, disabled, indigenous, Afro-descendants, women living with HIV, from rural areas, migrants, refugees, sex workers, among others. That is the only way to achieve comprehensive measures.
In my opinion, the main challenge is reaching those men who are not gender sensitive. Working with men sometimes becomes a vicious circle, where we are always the same men raising or questioning patriarchal values. Show men how patriarchy affects not only women and LGBT people, but it also affects them, for example, when expressing their emotions or in health matters. Then patriarchy is recognized as negative for all people, so the change is favored.”
- Juan Pablo Poli, Argentina
Juan Pablo Poli is passionate about adolescents’ rights, with a focus on prevention of gender-based violence, promotion of sexual diversity, and defense of sexual rights. Juan Pablo is a member of the Generation Equality Youth Task Force.
“Everyone must be willing to influence behaviour change, and this can be achieved through small but connected efforts. Everyone must influence their inner circle to respect women’s rights before they try to influence total strangers.
Men can become part of the solution through mentoring younger boys to respect women’s rights and taking part in unpaid care work in the homes.
Young people must share knowledge on gender equality with peers in their communities and social media circles. Young people should be part of support networks, movements and community initiatives that thrive in advancing social justice and gender equality. They should harness the power of numbers. Networking offers limitless opportunities for young people. It offers support systems for young people growing up in violent setups.”
- Rufaro Chakanetsa, Zimbabwe
Rufaro Chakanetsa is a co-founder of Taking a Stand Against Gender-based Violence, a campaign that runs advocacy initiatives and community-based forums to drive behavior change.
“What really inspires me are all the women, and occasionally men too, who have taken action and who are dealing with much more threatening situations than I am, on a daily basis. When I get discouraged, I just need to look at what they're doing and to remember why we're doing this. Those people become your friends and a community of support. Without that community of support, you really do burn out.
Another thing that activists have to do to take care of themselves is not to feel guilty if you are in a better situation than others. Because what you need to do is to be able to help them. That's what we sometimes call, ‘sharing your privileges’.”
- Charlotte Bunch, USA
“Being able to see the results of my actions keeps me going. Seeing a new policy implemented as a result of my lobbying or seeing even one girl graduate from pre-school because of my efforts… that pushes me to do more. Taking time off to recharge is extremely important in activism because your greatest resources are your energy, resilience and passion for change. Once you run out of these, you can no longer create impact.”
- Shantel Marekera, Zimbabwe
“My main inspiration is the idea of living in a world with fewer inequalities. In recent times, it has become difficult because the COVID 19 crisis has affected us in all aspects — economic, health, mental and emotional. We deserve to put self-care at the centre of our activism. As activists, we always put "the others" ahead, those people for whom we fight and whom we defend. But we can only continue with this work if we also [take care of] our own well-being, our physical, mental and emotional health.”
- Juan Pablo Poli, Argentina