The 16 Days of Activism Explained

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Thursday 25 November 2021 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and marks day one of the 16 Days of Activism. 

Each year, from 25 November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to 10 December (World Human Rights Day), the 16 Days of Activism campaign calls for action against one of the world’s most persistent violations of human rights: violence against women.

During the 16 Days of Activism, people around the world unite to raise awareness about gender-based violence, challenge discriminatory attitudes and call for improved laws and services to end violence against women for good.

In 2021, inspired by the original vision and history of the Campaign (which focused on raising awareness about violence against women), and considering the continuing impunity for femicide in parts of the world, this year the Campaign will focus on the issue of “femicide or the gender-related killing of women”.

Additionally, the Campaign will continue its program activities to end gender-based violence in the world of work by focusing on the link between domestic violence and the world of work, drawing on legal standards outlined in ILO Convention 190 (C190) and the actions put forward in Recommendation 206 (R206).

But this may beg the question to those who don’t know too much about it: what is the history of this campaign and how did it come about?

How did the 16 Days of Activism come about?

The Global 16 Days Campaign was launched by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at its first Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991.

It has been used worldwide since then to call for the elimination of gender-based violence. It is run annually from November 25 (International Day Against Violence Against Women) to December 10 (International Human Rights Day).

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, who were brutally murdered and became symbols of women’s struggles

The Mirabal sisters became symbols of feminist resistance and female activism globally, 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.

Why the 16 days are important and continue to be

Violence against women continues to occur at an alarming scale in almost every country in the world. 

Too often, it is accepted as normal behaviour and the global culture of discrimination against women allows violence to occur with impunity. 

Recent movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp have propelled this issue onto the global stage.

Speaking out against women’s rights abuses is something that women’s rights organisations do every day. For us here at the MWA, the ethos of the 16 Days goes to the heart of what we do and who we are as an organisation. The 16 Days mission is very much in sync with that of MWA’s, and we have proudly noted and supported this global campaign in our own work.

From lobbying governments to improve laws and services to working with communities to change discriminatory attitudes and behaviours, organisations and individuals are working all over the world to respond to and prevent violence against women. And the MWA is doing its part to contribute to these efforts here in Australia.

Violence against women is a global problem and thus requires global action. Calls for action like the 16 Days of Activism are crucial because they shine a spotlight on the issue of violence against women. They are a moment to create public awareness about what needs to change to prevent it from happening in the first place at local, national, regional and international levels.

Who needs to be involved?

To end violence against women, we need to challenge attitudes that perpetuate and normalise that violence, and deny women’s right to safety. 

To see violence truly eliminated, the attitudes of all in society need to change, but foremost those of men who normalise, accept and justify such behaviour.

Shifting these behaviours is hard and slow, but necessary, work. And the progress made in the time since the launch of 16 Days has been heartening.

During the 16 days we will be highlighting the issue of violence against women in Australia, as well as the action which people (including ourselves) are taking to help drive change.

Violence against women is not inevitable; it is preventable. We need to get our families, schools, communities and workplaces onboard with the effort to end violence against women. 

And as the history of the 16 Days has shown, together we can go a long way.

In 2020, the ambassadors of our Linking Hearts initiative came together to share their thoughts on what the 16 Days of Activism means to them. You can view their messages here. They are just as relevant this year as they were last year. 

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