Why I took part in 16 days of activism against gendered violence against women
“How frequently women are hurt and violated by the people they love. How rarely those criminals are brought to justice. How devastating the consequences of rape and gendered violence are. How effectively and irreparably violence against women destroys a woman’s self-esteem, her freedom and her capacity to live the life she is entitled to.’
Violence against women is an invisible crime. A crime that more often than not goes unrecognised, unreported and unpunished. Most devastatingly, it is going on routinely and unabated.
One in three Australian women will be the victim of violence in their lifetime. I am one of three daughters. I am also the victim of rape. Does that make my sisters safe? Does that mean that I need not stay awake at night worrying that what happened to me might happen to them? Does that mean that I can relax knowing they will live untouched by the tyranny of violence? That they will live instead a life of security and dignity?
If only statistics worked that way. I cannot know, I can never be sure, that my sisters will be safe from violence. I can never be sure that any of the women in my life will live their lives through without being terrorised, traumatised and victimised. None of us can.
Violence against women occurs so frequently in our society that it constitutes the most significant human rights abuse occurring in the world today. With one in three women confronted by violence in their lifetime, the only fitting term for the situation is an epidemic.
None of us are left untouched by this rampant occurrence of criminal behaviour. We all know at least three women, we all know victims of gendered violence. We all know women who are dealing with the devastating consequences of assault, intimidation and brutality, whose lives are constrained and limited by the deliberate infringement of their integrity and their liberty.
Yet, where is the outrage? Where is the condemnation? Where are the action groups and action plans? Where is the public discussion on this catastrophic situation? Where is the determination to confront this criminal behaviour and punish it appropriately? Where are the clear and bold messages that this is unacceptable? That this must change?
This is how the 16 Days of Activism Against Gendered Violence emerged. Developed by the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership, the 16 Days begins on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ended on December 10, International Human Rights Day, dates chosen deliberately “in order to symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights.” The campaign set out from the very beginning to ensure that the issue of violence against women was no longer considered as an obscure and marginal issue but as the significant and urgent public health crisis and global human rights abuse that it is.
The 16 Days campaign recognised that a systemic crime required a systemic response. If governments, justice systems and community leaders worldwide weren’t prepared to address this issue with the gravity and urgency it required then a bold, international education campaign was necessary.
16 Days is all about awareness and education. It is about showing people how dire violence against women is. This is not a situation we can ignore and just hope it goes away. We need to be aware how many women are living lives in the face of terrorism and abuse, how rampant the occurrence of gendered violence is and how great the cost to all of us is. In Australia alone, violence against women costs the Australian economy $13.6 billion annually. This is a very significant burden we are choosing to bear and one we can choose to confront, diminish and end, whenever we are ready.
And so 16 Days is also about recognising that our behaviour matters. That violence against women is not inevitable and that we will end this abuse when we choose to confront the attitudes and behaviours that enable this violence to continue. Ending violence against women is something we all need to take part in: we are all implicated in both the current situation and the solution. We can only end violence against women when we tackle the problem as something both personal and communal, both private and public, both local and international.
H 3 I first participated in the 16 Days campaign last year. The same year that I became a victim of rape.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I became a victim of gendered violence that I realised the nature and extent of this crime. Only then did I learn how common sexual assault is. How frequently women are hurt and violated by the people they love. How rarely those criminals are brought to justice. How devastating the consequences of rape and gendered violence are. How effectively and irreparably violence against women destroys a woman’s self-esteem, her freedom and her capacity to live the life she is entitled to.
I had not understood how dire the situation was until I became the victim of it. My ignorance devastates me now for I understand how that very ignorance is part of what allows these crimes to continue. Because we do not see this crime we cannot prevent it. Because we do not understand it, we cannot support victims and aid them to recover. Because we do not recognise or acknowledge it for the very serious abuse it constitutes, we do not avert, let alone discourage, perpetrators from committing their crimes. Instead, we aid and abet them.
Until we grasp that violence against women is an urgent crisis affecting us all, until we give this crisis the attention and resolute determination that it so desperately requires – on both a public and personal level – we will continue to undermine not only individuals but families, communities and societies worldwide. We will continue to disable a vast majority of the global population and force them into half-lives of terror and constraint. We will continue to enable perpetrators to commit their crimes unrestrained, without fear of punishment or consequence.
16 Days is about showing us that the way to end this terrifying situation is about each of us taking responsibility for our part in the solution. It is about showing us that, as individuals and as a community, we can address the attitudes and behaviours, the culture, that allows violence against women to occur so frequently and so readily. In being willing to examine our own attitudes and our own behaviours and then change them to ensure that we are not facilitating violence but rather facilitating security, respect and peace – this is how we will confront gendered violence and prevent it.
That’s what 16 Days means for me. It’s why I take part. It’s what I write about on my blog 16 Impacts of Sexual Assault. It’s why I think the 16 Days of Activism Against Gendered Violence is so important. I don’t want my behaviour to contribute to the occurrence of violence against women any longer. In fact, I am determined to do everything I can to ensure that my behaviour, my attitudes, my culture abhors, criminalises and justly punishes any and all forms of violence against women. I don’t want to live in shame any longer. And shame it is to be part of a world that condones and enables violence and abuse against any of us. Let us live instead in pride and security and dignity. Let us do all we can to end the epidemic of violence against women.
Here are just a few of the determined initiatives undertaken around the world as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gendered Violence:
● Take Back the Tech, an international campaign to take control of technology to end violence against women.
● 16 Days of Community Radio Activism in Fiji by femLINKpacific
● The Coast Women in Development’s campaign in Kenya
● The Domestic Violence Resource Centre of Victoria’s 16 Days blogathon
● 16X16: Activate, Activism, Action: 16 Days 16 Ways! by the Women’s Networking Hub in Birmingham, UK