By Agnes van de Beek-Pavia, SB Board Member

November 25th marks the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, a campaign led by civil societies around the world. Being present today means we stand proud alongside our fellow women and the inspiring generations of individuals and organizations working tirelessly to prevent and respond to violence against women and children.

Violence against women being a major human rights violation is a global concern that demands a global response.

Under this global theme: “Unite to End Violence against Women”  set by the UN Secretary-General, we are all asked to take a stand, be aware of this global concern that affects us, people we know, a family, a friend or a neighbor. This year’s 16 days of activism starts today and continues until 10 December.  

The UNITE to End Violence against Women was launched in 2008 under the leadership of the UN Secretary-General. This year the huge responsibility for this campaign lies on the shoulder of the incumbent Secretary-General António Guterres. UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous also shares this visionary leadership as she continues to fight for women and girls, gender equality and youth empowerment. She too is a strong and passionate advocate for quality education, poverty alleviation and inclusive governance.

Why do we need to observe this year’s 16 days of activism? 

We all are aware how women remain underrepresented despite our capabilities as agents of change and despite of our cry for equal right to participate in a democratic society. We continue to face obstacles in participating in the normal ways of life – be it political, civil service, private sector or academe.  Not only because we are not properly represented in any of these areas but because of the statistics and facts which clearly prove that women’s rights are continuously threatened and violated. 

UN Women’s reports present facts that are painful and alarming. These reports prove how violence against women continue to prevail as one the most pervasive human rights concerns.

  • Less than 40% of women who experience violence seek help of any sort. This means that many women out there miss the access to quality, multi-sectoral services that are essential for their protection, safety and recovery, especially those who suffer multiple discrimination. The fear of exposure is stronger than the need to be helped.  How sad can this be? 
  • Nearly 1 in 5 women aged 20-24 were married before turning 18 in nearly 2021. This  forced marriage is a harmful practice that disproportionately affects women and girls globally, preventing them from living their lives free from all forms of violence.  Not being able to express full, free and informed consent on a marriage is a human rights violation. 
  • One third of women have been subjected to violence at least once in their lifetime. You can imagine any act of gender-based violence including physical, sexual or psychological harm to women, or deprivation of freedom which may occur in public or private life. These women, may be within our community, our circle of friends, a colleague or an acquaintance, choose to suffer in silence to avoid conflict and shame.  
  • More than 5 women or girls are killed every hour by someone in their own family. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime 2023 Report, some 47,000 women and girls worldwide were killed by their intimate partners or other family members in 2020. This means that, on average, a woman or girl is killed by someone in her own family every 11 minutes. In Asia alone, there are 18,600 family-partner related homicide. 
  • Domestic violence, trafficking, child marriage, are also exacerbated during conflicts.  Even technologies facilitate  and heighten different form of violence against women and girls thus increasing their vulnerability.  You can imagine how violence impacts women’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. It also has a significant impact on women’s professional development and economic empowerment.

These facts at hand clearly encourage us to take this concern seriously. This campaign demands an active response. Every year since 2008, the United Nations Secretary General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, calls for global action to increase awareness, galvanize advocacy efforts, and share knowledge and innovations.  It is the core objective of this campaign to prevent and eliminate violence against women in all its forms. 

The 16 days of activism campaign focuses on the eradication of physical, sexual, and psychological violence, partner violence, sexual harassment, human trafficking, female genital mutilation and child marriages. We may still experience disbelief but the above mentioned  facts are real, uncomfortable and painful.  The global prevalence of violation against women is a cruel and depressing truth. This campaign aims to bring a massive social awareness with the hope of ending this global scourge. 

This international campaign demands an international commitment. The call to action is clear. We take part in a collective endeavor of ending this violence against women and girls by standing in solidarity with women’s rights movements globally. We embrace the responsibility and consciously connect for collective mobilization and activism, resist any regression in women’s rights and strive for a world free from violence.

The clock ticks and the urgency mounts; while individuals, women groups, and the civil society continue to take a collective action in addressing gender-related violence. We too can have our own share of commitment and responsibility – donate to local organizations that empower women, amplify their voices, support survivors, and promote acceptance of all gender identities and sexualities. Let us too take our stand! 

Be an ally in preventing violence against women and girls.  Dare to take a stand publicly, engage in activities and events to raise awareness in your  own community. Each day make the choice to stand up for women’s rights.  We are stronger when we work together!

A glimpse of the Bayanihan workshop and info-session held on November 25, 2023 at Dona Daria

Photo credit: Salome aan den Toorn-Panoy