16 Days of Activism 2020 is almost over – but the global struggle continues

It’s a wrap! We’ve reached the end of #16daysblogathon! It’s December 10th, Human Rights Day and the final day of the global 16 Days of Activism 2020

The 16 Days Blogathon Team

Today is International Human Rights Day and the final day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence for 2020. We have been sharing daily blog posts to raise awareness in our annual 16 Days Blogathon as part of our commitment to the ongoing struggle to put an end to gender-based violence around the world, once and for all.

How often have you heard the phrase ‘Due to #COVID19…’ this year? In 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic has loomed large – exposing and exacerbating deep and intractable social, political and economic inequalities and vulnerabilities to gender-based and intersectional violence for women and members of marginalised groups. Lockdowns and restrictions on movement have thrown the spotlight on the ‘shadow pandemic’ of domestic violence and underlined the grim reality of “home” for many women and LGBTQ people.

This year, our main theme has been arts-based and creative responses to gender-based violence and we’ve been honoured to share the blogathon with a wonderful array of artists, writers, musicians, playwrights and performers. They join activists, academics, students, and survivors – noting that the boundaries between all these categories blur.

We’ve posted stories, reflections and performances from around the world. From Scotland to Brazil, from Australia to Nigeria, and from South Africa to India. Through images, video and text we have shared ideas, experiences and acts of remembrance and resistance that have been sometimes harrowing and challenging but always illuminating and, ultimately, hopeful. 

The 16 Days Blogathon is an ongoing collaboration between gender ED at the University of Edinburgh, the Australian Human Rights Institute at the University of New South Wales, and Ambedkar University in Delhi.

What have we learned through the blogathon this year?

Art is powerful in resisting, exposing and surviving gender-based violence

There is no doubt that art and design-based practice is a powerful tool for creatively addressing and resisting gender-based violence, for exposing and surviving, and as a key means of testimonial, commemoration and reckoning at individual and collective scales. From performing trans art as activism in Brazil to Zanana’s expressions of solidarity using songs, poetry and conversations in India, to Maria Adela Diaz’s video performance to encourage women to speak out – art is key in the movement to end gender-based violence.

On Day Six, we read about the innovative and creative projects young survivors in Scotland have organised, to reach out to others experiencing domestic violence while mobilising support for domestic violence survivors. Young people are creating training videos, digital resources and websites to make changes to the lives of survivors.

On Day Eight, we explored art installations that play a role in transitional justice efforts. The Blue Dress in South Africa and Thinking of You in Kosovo (and travelling) provide alternative ways to remember and address women’s experiences of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict situations.

Covid-19 has exacerbated gender-based violence

One of the themes of 2020 has been the effect Covid-19 has had on gender-based violence. As Violence Unseen (Day 12) campaigners note: “we know that lockdown has acted as an enabler for perpetrators and made violence against women even less visible to the public eye”. On Day Three, Rukmini Sen addressed the multiple meanings of ‘home‘ and how the stay-at-home message has affected women and minority groups in India through increased gender-based household work and domestic violence. And Natasha Chandhock told how Covid-19 has amplified the issue of safe spaces for non-binary and trans people, and how design-led thinking can support these oppressed groups to find safety when forced to retreat indoors due to lockdown. Qri Kim’s project focused on the people who are neither mainstream nor marginalised, and how the pandemic has exacerbated their ‘Nomadian’ place in society (Day 14).

Gender-based violence still exists everywhere and in multiple forms

Gender-based violence and abuse is still happening across the world, in private homes, workplaces, and in public spaces. And it is comes in many different forms, a number of which we have covered in the last 16 days including domestic violence , psychological abuse, femicide, and mass conflict related sexual violence . The Covid-19 pandemic has forced much of our lives online, and has exposed the rise and variety of gender-based and intersectional violence and abuse online.

On Day Four of the 16 Days Blogathon, the UK Femicide Census released its ground-breaking report analyising ten years of men’s fatal violence against women and girls in the UK. Karen Ingala Smith, co-founder and Director of the UK Femicide Census, gave an in-depth look at the findings of the report and what it outlines for the future.

On Day Eleven, Scottish lawyer Claire Mitchell QC – who fights contemporary miscarriages of justice in her day job – together with author Zoe Venditozzi shared their campaign The Witches of Scotland. Claire and Zoe hope their campaign will highlight historic miscarriages of justice and the persecution and murder of women during the witch hunts of the 16th-18th centuries in Scotland. The campaign also hopes to expose the accusations of witchcraft that continue to be used to persecute women and girls in other parts of the world.

Speaking out and speaking up has always carried risks for women, whether in the real or the virtual worlds. On Day Fifteen, Margie Orford traced how old and how deadly this taboo is on women’s free speech and their safety. The International PEN Women’s Manifesto takes stand against the vilification and censorship of women activists, artists, writers and journalists – and provides a powerful tool to fight for women’s right to free speech and creative expression.

Focussing on online abuse: on Day Two, we read a personal account from interdisciplinary artist and activist Megan Bellatrix Archibald  who attracted persistent online misogynistic threats after going public with a campaign, and quickly realised there is much progress to be made surrounding technology and the law. The Museum of Rape Threats and Sexism post on Day Three provides inspiration in terms of sharing and resisting online abuse. Through a digital installation, Isha Yadav is bringing the experience of digital harassment, usually suffered by women as individuals in private, into the public space in an act of collective reckoning.On Day Fourteen, Zelda Solomon outlined more subtle violence and the difficulties we face in fighting bias when it is encoded into algorithms; where “women of colour are often found in the intersections of oppression in the new digital world.”

Creative acts of resistance are happening everyday

Small and large acts of defiance continue to take place across the world. On Day One Jo Clifford wrote about her transgressive and transformative play Jesus, Queen of Heaven which continues to change lives in the face of transphobic hate and violence from Scotland to Brazil. Delhi is one of the most unsafe cities in the world for women but also a site of creative resistance: on Day Nine, Meenakshi Nair shared three stories of young women speaking out against gender-based violence and harassment through challenging impunity, spoken word videos and public dance performances. In Australia, two academics turned their park orange, in support of the 16 Days campaign, creating a safer public space for residents and paving the way for future social change campaigns. And the Zero Tolerance Unseen Violence Campaign projected powerful images on public buildings in Scotland. Meanwhile a group at UNSW School of Public Health are campaigning to establish of a Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre, the first of its kind in Australia.  In South Africa – where criminalisation of sex workers increases their vulnerability to gender-based violence, a small advocacy group literally ‘played politics’ – intervening in the presidential elections to put the rights of sex workers on the agenda (Day Fifteen).

The voices of survivors have been central to the blogathon and their stories of courage and creative agency have been inspiring: from the Scottish young survivors (Day Six) to Australian Musician Jack Colwell’s haunting new work aired on Day Five which addresses the childhood trauma of domestic abuse from the vantage point of a young man. In conversation with award-winning photographer Alicia Bruce, the Scotland-Gambia anti-FGM campaigner Fatou Badeh talks about the image they co-created: “That year was one of the most difficult years in my life. But that picture for me shows; I see a defiant woman who refuses to give up, who refuses to be defined by her experience.” (Day 10) And as Fatima Ishiaku, author and founder of a shelter for sexually-abused girls, describes her act of memoire: “My pain became my beautiful testimony.” (Day Ten).

The blog posts in a nut shell

Every #16daysblogathon post is summarised below. While there is a long way to go before gender-based violence becomes an abuse of the past, there are many powerful and effective initiatives underway designed to protect, empower and centre the survivors of gender-based violence. This gives us reason to hope.

Day One

Art as resistance in the face of hate

By Jo Clifford, Scottish playwright, performer and activist

In Brazil – a country that kills more trans women than anywhere else – performing trans art as resistance can be a matter of life and death. Jo Clifford, acclaimed author of plays and internationally known trans performer and activist, shares the story of actress Renato Carvalho’s experience performing in Brazil.

Day two

Digital Women – Gender Based Violence in the Online Space

By Megan Bellatrix Archibald, interdisciplinary artist and Masters student at Edinburgh College of Art

Megan gives a powerful personal account of being threatened online after speaking out about the laws on hysterectomies in the UK, and being faced with an unhelpful police force when she sought help. She discusses the lag in progress between technology and the law in Scotland, and the difficulties faced by someone who experiences online abuse. 

Museum of Rape Threats and Sexism

By Isha Yadav, Founder and Curator of Museum of Rape Threats and Sexism and PhD candidate in Women and Gender Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi

Isha Yadav introduces her curated art installation, The Museum of Rape Threats and Sexism, and her experience creating it with crowd-sourced screenshots of rape threats and sexist comments that women have received online for raising their voices for social justice. The installation brings the digital artifact (screenshot) into the physical space of the exhibition, making something normally experienced privately, public.

Day Three

Returning Home And Violence Within The Home: COVID-19 and multiple gendered violations

By Rukmini Sen, Professor of Sociology, Ambedkar University Delhi

What does the home mean to us? Rukmini focuses on India in her post, and while engaging with some of the reasons around the rise of domestic violence, she looks into the multiple meanings and metaphors associated with home that the pandemic has made us confront. In her writing she covers increased gender-based household work, access to technology, space, privacy, domestic violence, the implications for migrant workers and students.

The Place I Must Call Home

By Natasha Chandhock, graduate student at the School of Design, Ambedkar University, Delhi

Natasha explores the ways in which dialogue-based design, or discursive design, can create safe spaces for Trans Binary and Trans Non-Binary identities – a need which has been significantly worsened in the Covid-19 pandemic. She suggests design has the capacity to produce triggers or nudges to make individuals reflect or realign their thinking, that journey mapping exercises could encourage empathetic ways of engaging with others, and design can be key in bringing the concept of non-binary into the everyday life.

Day Four

If I’m not in Friday, I might be dead

By Karen Ingala Smith, co-founder and Director of the UK Femicide Census

This week the Femicide Census released a ground-breaking report analysing ten years of men’s fatal violence against women and girls in the UK. Karen Ingala Smith, co-founder and Director of the UK Femicide Census, gives an in-depth discussion of the report’s findings. 

Day Five

I will not let your shadow hang over me

By Jack Colwell, Australian singer/composer and activist

Singer/composer Jack Colwell’s new work The Sound of Music addresses the childhood trauma of domestic abuse. It is ‘a dialogue between three people: myself at 28, myself as a child and the idea of my father.’ In his moving piece, Jack shares his experience of domestic abuse while growing up, and how he used music to work through childhood trauma.

Day Six

Young Survivors of Gender Based Violence: Innovation and Impact

By Ruth Friskney and Claire Houghton, University of Edinburgh.

This piece shares a range of innovative and creative projects young survivors in Scotland have organised to reach out to others experiencing domestic violence while mobilising support for domestic violence survivors, including websites, films, training videos and resources for professionals.

Day Seven

The Zanana Ensemble – Women Perform Against Fascist Regimes

By Shwetha Gopalakrishnan, National Law University Delhi

Shwetha, a member of the Zanana Ensemble, tells the story of the Ensemble’s performance of ‘Zanana ka Zamana’ (The Era is Feminine), a collective act of resistance against the Citizenship Amendment Act in India through expressions of solidarity using songs, poetry and conversations.

We can’t breathe!

By Maria Adela Diaz, Guatemalan native and international performance artist 

Performance Artist Maria Adela Diaz discusses her performance piece tackling psychological abuse of women during Covid-19. She gives an insight into what prompted her to create, and how she hopes the work will inspire women who may be trapped in an abusive situation to speak up. 

Day Eight

South Africa’s Blue Dress: art as an alternative record of sexual and gender-based violence

By Eliza Garnsey, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in International Relations, University of Cambridge.

In this post, Eliza Garnsey explores how the powerful South African artworks ‘The Blue Dress’ provide an alternative record of women’s experiences of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV)

On the Appropriateness of Cultural Representations of Mass Violence Against Women

By Maria Alina Asavei, Assistant Professor at the Institute of International Studies, Charles University Prague.

Maria’s piece focuses on women survivors of violence from war and conflict, centring artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa’s Kosova installation, Thinking of You. She asks how the experiences of women affected by sexual violence from war can be highlighted through art, without further reproducing and perpetuating trauma.

Day Nine

Women’s Resistance in Three Acts: Experiencing 21st Century Delhi

By Meenakshi Nair, a student at SOAS, University of London

Delhi as one of the most unsafe cities in the world for women but it is also a site of creative resistance. In this piece, Meenakshi explores three acts of resistance by young women in Dehli against gender-based violence, including by filing police complaints, through spoken word videos, and performing in public spaces.

Unmasking the Issues of Cows, Women, and Safety in India

By Anisha Palat, PhD student at the Edinburgh College of Art

Anisha’s post focuses on the India artist-activist Sujatro Ghosh’s recent project Cow Mask project which highlights that, in India, women are seemingly less safe and less protected than cows. 

Day Ten

‘My pain became my beautiful testimony’: breaking the silence on the sexual abuse of girls

By Fatima Ishiaku, author and founder of House of Fatima for sexually-abused girls, Ebe, Nigeria

Nigerian author and activist Fatima Ishiaku turned her traumatic past into a memoir – and a beacon of hope for young girls like her.

Picturing Violence Unseen

By Alicia Bruce with Fatou Baldeh

This post shares a conversation between photographer Alice Bruce and Fatou Baldeh, an FGM campaigner providing space spaces for survivors of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Alicia photographed Fatou as part of the Zero Tolerance ‘Violence Unseen’ campaign launched in 2018. They reflect on the image they created together.

Day Eleven

Witches of Scotland: A campaign to right the historic wrongs done to women

By Claire Mitchell QC , Scottish lawyer and author Zoe Venditozzi

The Witches of Scotland Campaign, set up in 2020 by Scottish lawyer Claire Mitchell QC, seeks pardons, memorials and apologies for the women who died in witch trials in Scotland between the 16th and 18th century. It is hoped that this campaign can shed also light on allegations of witchcraft and gender-based persecution that still occur in communities around the world.

Day Twelve

Violence Unseen Reimagined – arts activism in the time of COVID-19

By Jo Zawadzka, Campaigns and Engagement Office for Zero Tolerance

When the pandemic curtailed the travelling exhibition Violence Unseen, the organisers had to reassess. And they re-imagined and ‘digitally painted’ the images onto cityscapes.

City Lights for Social Change

By Effie Karageorgos and Kcasey McLoughlin, University of Newcastle

To mark 2020 16 Days of Activism theme ‘Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!’ Australian academics worked with local authorities to turn the city of Newcastle orange for the 16 days.

Day Thirteen

A Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre: A Call to Action

By Patricia Cullen, Research Fellow, National Health and Medical Research Council Population Health, UNSW, and Sally Stevenson, General Manager of the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre.

While domestic and family violence is prevalent across Australia with a murder rate of one woman per week, there remains an absence of centres that offer support to women survivors over the long term. This post focuses on the campaign to establish a Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre, by the UNSW School of Public Health and the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre and their partners.

Day Fourteen

Due to (Covid-19)

By Qri Kim, PhD candidate at Edinburgh College of Art

How do we encapsulate the experiences and voices of those who occupy liminal spaces in society? Qri Kim writes about her project ‘Due To’, and the reconceptualisation of the Nomadian in her art.

No Problem, I understand: digital antagonism and the algorithm

By Zelda Solomon, History of Art student at Edinburgh College of Art

Zelda Solomon discusses the problems of digital discrimination and the racist underpinnings of algorithms, through the incident with An Nguyen, a Vietnamese curator due to exhibit at the Affordable Arts Fair, only to be rejected because of the Covid-19 pandemic and its associations with ‘Asianness’.

Day Fifteen

Playing politics to get sex workers’ rights on the agenda

By Ishtar Lakhani, feminist and activist, South Africa

On day fifteen, this piece from Ishtar Lakhani outlines how she, and SWEAT, an advocate group for the health & human rights of sex workers and the Decriminalisation of Sex Work in South Africa, used politics to bring sex worker issues to the public stage, by running for president.

Speaking for ourselves: the PEN international women’s manifesto

By Margie Orford, scholar and author

Silencing and censoring women’s free expression date back to ancient times. In this piece, Margie examines the impact of the PEN International Women’s Manifesto in the struggle for women to speak and write freely without censorship or violence.

Day Sixteen

Lifting our voices to end violence against women: the Hummingsong choirs

By Carolyn Thompson, Choir member

The Hummingsong Choirs in New South Wales build “community”, bringing together women of all backgrounds and stages in life to sing, laugh, nourish their souls and build close-knit connections. The other important purpose is to extend support to those most vulnerable in the community, women and children escaping domestic violence. 

It’s a wrap!

That’s the end of the blogathon to honour the 16 Days of Activism campaign for another year – but the struggle for women’s human rights and the end to all gender-based violence continues. Thanks to our wonderful contributors and to all of you who have read and shared these stories. Please keep reading and sharing, and we will be back in 2021!

The 16 Days Blogathon team:

Fiona Mackay, co-curator, Director of genderED, University of Edinburgh

Louise Chappell, co-curator, Director of the Australian Human Rights Institute, University of New South Wales

Rukmini Sen, co-curator, Director of the Centre for Publishing, Dr B.R. Ambedkar University Delhi

Aerin Lai, student editor, UoE

Jessica Shao, student editor, UNSW

Laura Melrose, communications, UNSW

Jennifer Chambers, communications, UoE

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