Sunday 25 November 2018 was commemorated around the world as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and marks day one of the 16 Days of Activism. However, in a recent assessment of the campaign commissioned by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership one of Dr. Cosette Thompson’s conclusion was that the campaign has become marked by “a prevalence of awareness-raising activities, often disconnected from a human rights framework or agenda.” The fading 16 Days of Activism needs a rethink because it has become a faint representation of what it was originally intended.
On 25 November 1960, sisters Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa Mirabal, three political activists who actively opposed the cruelty and systematic violence of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, were clubbed to death and dumped at the bottom of a cliff by Trujillo’s secret police. The Mirabal sisters became symbols of the feminist resistance, and in commemoration of their deaths 25 November was declared International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in Latin America in 1980. This international day was formally recognised by the United Nations in 1999.
In June 1991, the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL), alongside participants of the first Women’s Global Institute on Women, Violence and Human Rights, called for a global campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. According to UN-Women the 16 Days campaign is “a time to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world.” Partners are encouraged to host events with local, national, regional and global women’s movements, survivor advocates and women human rights defenders and create opportunities for dialogue between activists, policy-makers and the public.
While one of the aims of the 16 Days Campaign is to raise awareness at the local, national and international levels regarding violence against women, it is also originally intended to provide a forum for dialogue and strategy-sharing, and pressure governments to implement the commitments they have made in national and international legal instruments. This is where the 16 Days Campaign is falling short in Belize and has been for some time now.
According to the UN, one in three women across the world will experience violence in their lifetime. That’s more than 1 billion women and girls facing physical or sexual abuse. And we know, violence doesn’t discriminate, it affects women of all ages, abilities, classes and backgrounds. This week we have been bombarded with horrific news of what can be called femicide as reports killings of women across the country confirm that they were killed mainly because they are women. Only today we heard of the woman who was out selling cheese and was stabbed to death and dump in a pit latrine. Similarly, here in the capital, a young working other was run over with a vehicle, along with her children, with the intent of killing them, by her own partner. These outrageous acts of violence, during 16 Days of Activism no less, has not been met with proportionate outrage and demand for policy makers to take action. This is a monumental deficit of moral courage.
What is happening this year with 16 Days of Activism? A cut and paste of same thing that happened last year. A look at the calendar of activities for this year and last year shows persons engaged in flag competitions, presentations, buying purple lights and self-defence classes. Now, there is nothing wrong with these activities and awareness raising. That is important. However, focusing on these things only removes our attention from real and meaningful change. What is going on? Simply continuing these worn out activities a sign that we are simply out of ideas as to how to tackle the ongoing tidal wave of gender-based violence?
The 16 Days campaign in Belize seems to be slipping by quietly, a little bit like death in the night – a cruel but apt metaphor for the ongoing violence against women and children. It is not like we don’t know what needs to be done. One of the Objectives of the National Gender-Based Violence Plan of Action 2010-2013 includes, “All survivors of gender-based violence have access to have access to adequate support and advocacy services.” Within this objective are specific actions to achieve such a lofty objective. Of course this should have been accomplished five years ago however this remains an urgent need today. Had this been achieved, Ms. Hamilton in Punta Gorda would still be alive today. Fortunately, or unfortunately, this very same objective is again in the new Gender-Based Violence Action Plan but this time it is to be achieved by 2020; a full 10 years after it was first identified. This of course assumes that it will indeed be achieved.
We cannot be satisfied with awareness activities disconnected from real and life changing polices. Neither can we be satisfied with token displays of acknowledgement by politicians and policy makers or their complete absence altogether from the discourse on gender-based violence. Two of Dr. Thompson’s recommendations includes the need to “integrate the Campaign into a broader program on gender-based violence” and, “reclaim its leadership role and prioritize direct engagement with key stakeholders.” Considering where we are at this moment with gender-based violence, these recommendations are critical.
Why do away with the 16 Days of Activism instead of reforming it or re-energize it? 16 Days has become a façade for real action and only delivers a feel-good effect as if doing something to address am important issue but in fact contributes to no real meaningful change. It is better to devise new strategies to achieve concrete results than continue to pursue an activity that has run its course. We must treat this issue with more seriousness and urgency. What are we going to do next year? The same thing we did this year? We cannot continue along this path because by then the situation would at best remain unchanged, or have worsened.