The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign which takes place yearly from 25 November (International Day Against Violence Against Women) to 10 December (International Human Rights Day).  These dates symbolically link violence against women and human rights and emphasise that such violence is indeed a human rights violation that should concern everyone, not only those working on women’s rights.

Violence against women is a pervasive human rights issue that occurs across the globe. The scale and nature of violence against women today, as well as its consequences, makes it a public health crisis and an obstacle to equality, development, security and peace. Violence affects women in different ways and takes different forms in different countries. However, globally it is perpetuated by inadequate laws and policies, lack of implementation and access to justice and the normalisation of such violations against women.

ActionAid has engaged with the 16 Days of Activism in full force and, in line with its global spirit, has supported initiatives across the world, from Brazil to Bangladesh, and the UK to Uganda. Through the campaigns on violence against refugees, alleged witches, garment workers, university students and women living with HIV and AIDS specific issues were tackled head on.

The theme for this year’s campaign was From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let's Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women! While ActionAid initiatives aligned themselves with this theme, emphasis was also placed on our new report Women and the City: Examining the gender impact of violence and urbanisation. This research explored the ways violence and insecurity limit poor urban women’s mobility and participation in society, and was piloted in Brazil, Cambodia, Liberia, Nepal and Ethiopia.

There were a series of national-level launches of Women and the city throughout the 16 Days.  In Brazil, the women who participated in the study expressed their views and gave testimonies about their communities and described the city of their dreams.  In Cambodia, a sensitisation workshop was held involving 35 garment workers, who live in constant fear of robbery, rape and harassment on their way home from work, on isolated and unlit paths. Additionally, a 16 Days of Activism Campaign event in Phnom Penh brought together students, sex workers, garment workers, police, the ministry of women’s affairs and NGOs to arrange themselves as giant white ribbon for peace.

Research conducted by AA Liberia and their partners focused on the violence, sexual harassment and inequality young university women suffer on campus. Events included dialogues with students on several campuses, the Liberian press, and a student activist play, “Urban Equals: The Musical”. During the discussions, female students reiterated the report finding that transactional sex or “sex for grades” is a major problem. The students called for professors who violate women’s rights to be “named” and “shamed” and banned from teaching.

Theatre was also used as a medium for social change in both Ghana and Nepal. In Ghana, the play, “Down Memory Lane in the Fight against Domestic Violence in Ghana”, addressed issues of domestic violence and the frustrations of survivors due to the inefficient Domestic Violence Act (2007) which has not yet been ratified due to the absence of a Legislative Instrument. After the Drama, a joint statement was made to call on the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs and the Attorney General’s Department to ensure the passage of the Legislative Instrument to pave the way for effective implementation of the Domestic Violence Act.

Likewise, in Nepal, the celebration of South Asian Women’s Day began with a street drama, and the lighting of candles or diyos, in remembrance of all the female activists who have given their lives in the fight against violence against women. 

In post-conflict countries, such as Sierra Leone, commitments were made by key parties to work towards an end to violence against women and girls, in an event launched by the Hon. Vice President of the Republic of Sierra Leone. In Liberia, the high increase of sexual violence in refugee camps and host communities is a cause for great alarm. ActionAid held events in the camps focused on increasing awareness on the 16 Days campaign, specifically women’s rights to protection under the key laws. Awareness-raising reached over 2,500 people.

The final day of the campaign will involve a series of events. One such event will be a Walk Against Violence Against Alleged Witches in Northern Ghana. Alleged “witches” undergo a series of violations leading to social marginalisation.

It is clear that violence against women is pervasive around the globe and comes in many forms. The 16 Days of Activism Campaign is just a small step. Let us remember the importance of peace and equality for all people the remaining 349 days of every year.