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16 Days of Activism to Eliminate Violence against Women, at the UN and Worldwide

arton3622According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), six in ten women worldwide suffer physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives, usually at the hands of their husbands or partners. In 139 countries, however, constitutional law guarantees equality between women and men, and 125 countries criminalize domestic violence in an attempt to safeguard women’s rights. Eradicating this gap between practice and principle is the essential aim of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the related 16 Days campaign of global action to raise awareness and prevent gender-based violence.

The 16 Days initiative, which is run through Rutgers University’s Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) in New Jersey, USA, has orchestrated advocacy in 164 countries since 1991, partnering with more than 3400 organizations worldwide. This year’s campaign was launched on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and culminates on 10 December, International Human Rights Day; this timeline emphasizes the 16 Days campaigns’ explicit positioning of violence against women as a violation of human rights.

The 2011 advocacy focuses on militarism and its contribution to the root causes of domestic and sexual violence; its theme is “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!” Approximately 250 events are occurring throughout the world as 16 Days initiatives, along with a new social media angle targeting teenagers in partnership with the online platform Stardoll and an Internet forum asking for submissions answering “What Does Security Mean to You?

16 Days’s powerful global effort to raise awareness about violence against women incorporates men and boys in challenging the cultural stereotypes and attitudes that play a significant role in the prevalence, through education-based programming. According to Dr. Radhika Balakrishnan, CWGL’s Executive Director, “The violence [women] encounter is often profoundly influenced by national, regional, and international policies and practices.” Events occurring include student trainings in Nigeria; art exhibitions displaying women’s resilience in Australia; a Silent No More! march in Armenia; regional domestic violence workshops in Iraq; and a testimonial event in Cambodia featuring women survivors of sexual violence under the Khmer Rouge. For more information on the 16 Days of activism, please visit their website, which also includes a Take Action toolkit to assist local organizing efforts.

Complementary endeavours at the United Nations include UN Women’s 16 Steps policy agenda, the Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women initiative, and the 15th anniversary celebrations of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. These organizations together held a pivotal event on 23 November at UN headquarters. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was the event’s keynote speaker; the distinguished panel also included UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet; UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake; UN Trust Fund grantees Irma Puac of Guatemala’s Population Council and Ali Raad of Lebanon’s the KAFA, Pascaline Umulisa of WAGGGS in Rwanda; and Abdou Salam Diallo, Representative of Senegal. The event was moderated by UN Youth Champion Monique Coleman, who also led a “Twitterview” on the International Day, run by UNiTE’s Say No to Violence initiative.

In her address at this UN commemoration, Ms. Bachelet asserted, “Violence against women remains one of the most widespread human rights violations yet one of the least prosecuted crimes.” Moreover, unchecked gender-based violence implicates national, regional, and international security, she continued, as it poses a severe threat to democracy, peace, and national economies. UN Women posits the three critical pillars of its global initiative as prevention of violence; protection of women; and the provision of services. Central to the success of this policy agenda is the engagement of men and boys as “partners in equality,” Ms. Bachelet explained.

(UN Women Deputy Executive Director, Assistant Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri, made complementary remarks at the European Parliament, where she identified “the global pandemic” of violence against women as a “priority public policy concern.” Click here to read Ms. Puri’s speech.)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s keynote speech presented an emphatic and unified position on UN activism against violence against women. Underscoring the importance of broadcasting “the message of zero tolerance” in all sectors globally, the Secretary-General advocated a focus on the “energy, ideas and leadership of young people.” Only by incorporating youth into the fight against violence against women, Mr. Ban concluded, “will we have a more just, peaceful, and equitable world.”

On the occasion of the International Day, UN Women released the aforementioned 16 Steps policy agenda focusing on ending and preventing violence against women. Ms. Bachelet’s detailed recommendations at national and international levels focused on service provision and women’s economic empowerment, complemented by legal measures to end impunity for perpetrators and budgeting significant economic resources. The 16 Steps also include recommendations to increase social mobilization and raise public awareness of the root causes of domestic and sexual violence, as well as its shape within local context and perspectives.

Coordinated by UN Women, UNiTE to End Violence Against Women orchestrates coalition-building and social education directed at governments, civil society including women’s groups, the UN system, the corporate sector, athletes, artists, youth, and men and boys. The campaign has recorded more than 2 million advocacy activities worldwide since its inception in 2008. Focusing primarily on data collection, legislative advocacy, and public awareness at the national level, UNiTE aims to achieve comprehensive targets by 2015.

Additionally, the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women celebrated its 15th anniversary at the 2011 International Day to Eliminate Violence against Women. Established in 1996 through General Assembly Resolution 50/166, the trust fund has provided nearly US $78 million in grants. The Fund has recently issued a Call for Proposals, encouraging government authorities at the national and local levels, civil society organizations and networks, and UN Country Teams in partnership with governments and civil society organizations to submit applications online by 19 January 2012. Click here for details on the application process.

The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to develop constructive relations between the UN and civil society organizations.


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