16 days, 16 calls to action against gender-based violence

Collage 16 Days
Collage of our 16 Days Blogathon images

Written by Fiona Mackay, Louise Chappell, Krishna Menon, Natasha Dyer, Christina Neuwirth and Chantelle Mayo

Today is the final day of the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence, the international campaign runs every year from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day. This year’s theme #HearMeToo has aimed at breaking the silence around gender-based violence (GBV), challenging the behaviours and power inequalities that underpin GBV, and transforming norms, practices and institutions to support gender equality and gender justice.

To be sure, there has been progress. The latest Social Institutions and Gender Index (SOGI) published last week by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) provides a mixed picture. On the one hand, globally, social acceptance of domestic violence has nearly halved, from 50% in 2012 to 27% today (although it sobering to realise that more than 1:4 people still perceive domestic violence to be acceptable). On the other hand,  the report cautions that progress on women’s rights is lagging and stalling including around child marriage, sexual and reproductive rights, intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation, access to financial and productive resources (such as land), and civil rights.  It is clear there is a still a considerable distance to be travelled.

The 16 Days Blogathon is a collaboration between genderED at University of Edinburgh, the Australian Human Rights Institute at University of New South Wales, and Ambedkar University Delhi. We have brought you a post a day addressing different aspects of gender-based violence. We have drawn together a range of academic researchers and students, practitioners from NGOs and international organisations, and activists to amplify the 16 Days of Activism, and to highlight, share and campaign on a range of global and local issues.

What are the key themes that we can draw out from our 16 posts?

 Important across all the blogs is the sheer scale of gender-based violence (GBV) across the world, and the many forms it takes. It is a fundamental part of all forms of violence, whether physical, political, psychological, institutional, racial or digital, meaning all violence must be considered in gendered terms.

While feminist movements have been working tirelessly for decades to raise awareness of the multiple forms of discrimination and violence women face, #MeToo and related movements have turned the tide toward believing women and encouraging them to speak out, renewing funding commitments and establishing or improving legal procedures towards tackling GBV & discrimination against women and children (e.g. Spotlight Initiative and ICC rulings).

At the same time, achieving gender equality and an end to GBV is a long way off. Indeed achievements to date are under threat as a result of a global pushback on women’s and human rights with conservative and populist movements ramping up efforts to blame or silence women and feminism, by targeting legal frameworks that discriminate against women’s sexual or reproductive rights for example (Indonesia); removing the issue of gender or women’s rights from agendas or reducing funding for women’s initiatives (USA); failing to recognise different forms of GBV and discrimination in policy and debates (Australia, Kenya) or by resisting awareness and acceptance of gender inequality and LGBTQ rights in schools (Peru, Colombia, Mexico, France, Poland, Canada, Australia) or recognising that LGBT persecution has been a part of conflict (NI).

The contemporary movement to expose, address and end GBV, recognises the myriad and intersecting ways that different identities (race, class, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, caste, etc) can combine to discriminate against women, and other marginalised identities, and make them vulnerable to violence, exclusion and abuse. It is also evident, that this is a global issue affecting women, men and children everywhere, for which we need global, coordinated action.

The importance of language is another key theme. #MeToo and social media has not only made it impossible for women’s stories to be ignored, it has harnessed decades, centuries even of feminist thought to provide a universal language for sexual and gender-based violence, that is being adapted, translated and applied in different contexts. It is emerging through campaigns (such as Pink Chaddi in India), women’s support groups (such as Breaking Silent Codes in Australia) and through artistic methods of processing experiences of GBV and translating them for academics and policymakers (with examples from Scotland and South Africa).

Today is the end of “16 Days” for another year, but the daily struggle for equality, security, freedom and gender justice continues.

Another chance to read: the 16 Days blogathon posts in a ‘nutshell’

  1. Introduction #HearMeToo

By Fiona Mackay (University of Edinburgh), Louise Chappell (University of New South Wales) and Krishna Menon (Ambedkar University Delhi). Co-ordinators of the 16 Days Blogathon.

The introduction outlines the scale of GBV worldwide, the objective and structure of the blogathon, an explanation of the theme #HearMeToo and examples of successful local, national and international efforts. It cites initiatives such as the new EU-UN 500m Euro initiative, but also key statistic: almost 1/3rd of women globally have experienced physical/sexual violence from a partner.

  1. ‘No Room for Complacency’: the ongoing need for world-wide activism to eradicate violence against women.’

By Laurel Weldon – Professor of Political Science at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver

Weldon summarises the global situation of feminist activism and women’s movements worldwide. Initially giving examples of the growth of feminist organising (women’s march, #metoo), she warns not only of the backlash to efforts to address gender equality (e.g. resistance campaigns to progressive school curricula recognising LGBTQ rights in Peru and USA removing word ‘gender’ from UN docs), but a decline in funding for women’s initiatives (20% worldwide).

She argues that this removes women’s ability to set the agenda in the struggle to stop violence against women.

  1. Taking Transformative Action on Sexual Violence in Universities

By Anna Hush, PhD candidate at the University of South Wales. She is also director of End Rape on Campus Australia.

Hush opens with the statistic that 1 in 10 women experienced sexual assault while studying over the last two years in Australia, a quarter in a university setting.

Though sexual violence has been reported at universities since the 1970s, the Australian government has been slow to act, with no formal or federal university process for reporting complaints of sexual violence (unlike in the USA), meaning universities’ response is largely ad hoc or reactive. The End Rape on Campus project in Australia have spent 350 hours and 13 months reporting one case, to which they’ve received no response.

  1. Tackling gender-based violence in Indigenous Communities

By Dixie Link-Gordon, Community Educator  New South Wales Government

Link-Gordon sheds light on the plight of indigenous women – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia – related to GBV. Starting with a poem of solidarity, Dixie sets out the layers of oppression and silencing these women face respectively from authorities, families, churches and communities.

She highlights the work of Breaking Silent Codes, a unique project gathering indigenous women across Asia Pacific to discuss stories of sexual and domestic violence and support each other, develop resources, safe online spaces and build this movement of indigenous Australian women.

  1. #HearMeToo – A celebration of children and young people’s activism to end gender-based violence.

By Claire Houghton, Everyday Heroes Programme Coordinator at University of Edinburgh’s IMPACT project with key partners, including Scottish government.

Houghton describes the recent participation of children and young people in political spaces and processes addressing GBV in Scotland, exemplified by Everyday Heroes.

She honours the feminist movements that ensured the Scottish parliament’s commitment to this process, noting the usefulness of the creative, arts mediums used to engage young people therapeutically and positively.

She describes how stigma, silence and impunity still allows violence against women and children to persist. Even if reported, abuse and trauma can continue through proceedings, necessitating sustained dialogue and an intersectional approach to GBV and gender equality.

  1. “Bad Girls”, Everyday Sexism and Activist Campaigns in Milennial India

By Dr. Radhika Govinda, Lecturer in Sociology at UoE and UK Lead on UGC-UKIERI Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives research and teaching project.

Opening with the satirical ‘bad girl’ poster, Govinda describes the independent and sexually confident ‘bad girls’ of post-liberal India, empowered by new technologies and consumerist habits.

Defying gender norms everywhere, Govinda suggests these ‘bad girls’ represent a resurgence of Indian feminism, fighting a traditionalist media and high-profile rape and sexual violence cases.

She cites a number of bold and creative campaigns resisting patriarchal authority, such as curfews (Pinjra Tod), restrictions on dress code and drinking habits (Pink Chaddi underwear campaign) and ‘The List’, which accused more than 50 Indian professors of sexual assault on FB, as examples of ways modern Indian feminism is split along generational, caste class lines.

  1. Epidemic of Violence against Transgender Women in Indonesia: When a Government fails to protect its vulnerable citizens

By Firmansyah Sarbini and Naila Rizqi Zakiah, Australian Human Rights Institute’s first Visiting Human Rights Defenders

Transwomen are the most vulnerable group in Indonesia. Polls show they are hated more than Jews and Communists (only second to ISIS) and are at risk across society, with academics, politicians and even government figures stating their support for legal discrimination of LGBT people in Indonesia.

Due to the visibility of their gender identity, out of LGBT people, transwomen are most at risk. Last year, a number of transwomen were murdered or victims of police violence, several by people who first befriended, dated and even had sex with them before killing them and taking their belongings.

  1. EU-UN Spotlight Initiative: A New Global Solution to a Global Challenge

By Adekoyejo Adeboye, Global Spotlight Initiative

Adeboye starts with the facts: 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced violence; domestic violence causes more deaths than in civil wars; there are 700m child brides, 200m FGM survivors etc.

He describes Spotlight, the largest ever investment made to end VAWG, 500m Euros, as essential to delivering the Sustainable Development Goals. By the first ¼ of 2019, they will have spent 65% of budget, funding projects to eliminate VAWG in 24 countries, reaching 170m people.

He breaks down thematic focus by continent (e.g ending femicide in Latin America, ending child marriage and FGM in Africa, addressing trafficking in Asia) and stresses goal for UN to collaborate between its agencies, donors, govts, academics, CSOs and private sector to end VAWG worldwide.

  1. Disability Gender Violence: Time for a Human-Rights Based Approach

By Rosemary Kayess, Committee Member on UN Committee for rights of persons with disabilities and interim Director for Disability Innovation Institute, UNSW, Sydney

2018 marks the 10th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first human rights treaty of the 21st century.

It makes clear that disability is just one aspect of being human, and shifts the perception that disability is a deficit or problem. Despite this, disabled people currently experience 3 times more violence than others, and marginalised women, such as Aboriginal women, even more so.

In Australia, 70% of women with disabilities have been victims of violent sex, with two thirds abused before turning 18. Neither Australia nor many other countries currently recognise disability gender violence as a specific category however, requiring a human rights based approach.

  1. Gender-based violence as a form of genocide

By Rosemary Grey, University of Sydney Doctoral Fellow, Sydney Law School and Sydney Southeast Asia Centre

In the 70th anniversary year of the Genocide Convention, Grey states that GBV and genocide often going ‘hand-in-hand’.

She cites gendered analysis of the Jewish, Rwandan and Yugoslavian genocides, showing that while men are often killed first because they’re seen as combatants, pregnant women are also killed to prevent them giving birth to a particular ethnic group or raped to give birth to another group.

The International Criminal Court has signed up to this definition. The Rwandan tribunal recognised sexual violence as a form of genocide and the recent Khmer Rouge Tribunal exposed that Vietnamese women and children were targeted because it was thought that ethnicity passes through mothers, showing genocide is not ‘gender-neutral’.

  1. Democracy’s promise unfulfilled while violence against women in politics persists

By Dr. Gabrielle Bardall, Gender Advisor at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems and Research Fellow at the Center for International Policy Studies, University of Ottawa.

After a decade of activism and research violence against women in politics (VAWP) has been recognised at the UN in 2018 as an international threat to democracy and human rights.

VAWP targets women in public spaces, at home and online. Over 80% of parliamentary women have experienced psychological violence, while over 58% have been attacked online, 3 times more than male counterparts. Zimbabwean women engaging in politics have been genitally mutilated, western parliamentarians sexually assaulted at work and female election workers bombed in Afghanistan.

But impunity for perpetrators of VAWP at national levels still stands. Laws protecting victims are systematically overlooked, legal frameworks remain murky, and VAWP is mostly unrecognised, even where it disrupts political processes, such as in recent Kenyan and Haitian elections.

  1. To Speak/To Complain: Reflections on Indian Feminist Politics in the Moment of #MeToo and LoSHA

By Prof Rukmini Sen, Professor at the School of Liberal Studies, Ambhedkhar University, Delhi.

LoSHA or ‘the List’ (as referred to in Day 6 by Radhika Govinda) was the catalyst for #MeToo in India. It provoked both support and resistance in feminist circles, with some calling for ‘due process’ to be respected and others raising concerns about silencing and over-reliance on the law.

Sen discusses the newly sparked debate amongst Indian feminists, detailing why legal definitions of sexual violence are limited. She argues for more dialogue between students, faculty and administration beyond formal complaints of sexual violence, to deal with the complexity of ‘unwelcome experiences, transgressions, consent and control’.

  1. Women’s Navigation of Xenophobia and Violence in South Africa and the UK

By Natasha Dyer, researcher and communications specialist in international development

Xenophobia is not new, but related violence has erupted many times in the last decade in South Africa, with 70 reported dead, 100,000s displaced and dozens of rapes. In the UK, anti-immigrant rhetoric, racism and ‘hate crimes’ have been on the rise around Brexit.

The experiences of women, however, and their connection to GBV and discrimination remain largely unknown, despite South African women experiencing some of the highest rates of GBV in the world, and the power struggle inherent in anti-immigrant debates negatively impacting women and mirroring misogynistic discourses.

Creative approaches to addressing xenophobia may help provide some answers, by enabling new forms of expression, dialogue and processing of identity, belonging and rights.

  1. “Justice for Her”: Policing Gender-Based Violence in India

By Dr. Sunita Toor, Principal Lecturer in Criminology (Sheffield Hallam University)

and women’s rights activist, leading Justice for Her initiative

Toor says fighting to end GBV is not impossible and calls on everyone to play their part. She works in India, the most violent place to be a woman in the world (Thomson Reuters poll, 2018), where the rapes reported (39,000 this year), do not reveal the true extent of the violence.

She describes her focus on working with police, training offers on GBV with empathetic, victim-centred, moral approaches, but says much more needs to be done.

  1. Gender Violence in Conflict and Peace Processes: The Neglect of LGBT Security

By Christine Bell, Professor of Constitutional Law, Assistant Principal (Global Justice), Director, Political Settlements Research Programme, University of Edinburgh

LGBT communities are often particularly targeted in conflicts, with their sexuality being used as a reason for violence or to convince them to become ‘informers’ (as in Northern Irish ‘Troubles’)

Conflict literature has largely failed to address gendered violence against gay people, as have peace agreements, despite LGBT communities being critical to peace processes, by helping reforms, participating in political negotiations, or campaigning for peace based on equality and human rights.

Nowadays, more is known about LGBT communities’ experiences and roles in peace processes, thanks to academic and civil society reports, new online resources and laws. Regardless, a 2017 survey found N. Ireland to be the ‘worst place to be gay’ in Europe, meaning more needs to be done.

  1. Technologising Rape and Sexual Assault: Can We Really Innovate the Problem Away?

By Lesley Mcmillan, Professor of Criminology and Sociology, Glasgow Caledonian University and Deborah White, Associate Professor of Sociology, Trent University Ontario

This award-winning blog [https://writetoendvaw.com/2018/11/30/winners-of-the-2018-write-to-end-violence-against-women-awards/] examines the emergence of new ‘anti-rape’ technologies targeted at women. The authors warn that technology does not provide easy answers, and highlight the problems embodied in these technologies including unintended consequences and the misrepresentation of rape and sexual assault. They argue these technologies privatise and individualise the problem of sexual violence taking the polar opposite approach to global initiatives such as the UN’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.


The 16 Days blogathon is a collaboration by  University of Edinburgh’s genderED initiative, the Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW Sydney and Ambedkar University Delhi to mark this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The team comprises: Fiona Mackay, Christina Neuwirth and Natasha Dyer ( Edinburgh); Louise Chappell, Gabrielle Dunlevy and Chantelle Mayo (UNSW); and Krishna Menon and Rukmini Sen (AUD). @UoE_genderED @ #HearMeToo #16days #OrangeTheWorld

Professor Fiona Mackay is Director of genderED at University of Edinburgh
Professor Louise Chappell is Director of the Australian Human Rights Institution at the University of New South Wales
Professor Krishna Menon is Dean of the School of Human Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi, and co-leads the AUD-University of Edinburgh collaborative project Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives (funded by the UK-India Educational Research Initiative)

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