Campaigns in the Movement for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality: 16 Days of Activism

by Savi Bisnath, Trinidad & USA

Question:  Shouldn’t activism to end gender-based violence be about more than 16 days? 

Answer: A valid question and one that is easy to answer: yes, and it is. 

Those of us working to bring an end to gender-based violence (GBV) are engaged throughout the year in advocacy, resistance and direct actions at the local, national, regional and international levels for its achievement. For us the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence Campaign from 25 November to 10 December is intended to do so several things, including shine the spotlight on the causes and consequences of GBV, and remobilize efforts for its end. For many it is also a moment to reflect, reenergize, conduct actions in solidarity with and in support of activists in different countries, celebrate, mourn the loss of feminist activists, and feel part of a larger movement for women’s rights and gender equality.

The 16 days of the Campaign allows the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) and partners around the world to bring attention to, and encourage greater participation in, actions to end GBV. In the recent past CWGL sought to highlight the under explored issue of militarism and its role in perpetuating gender based violence, and in particular violence against women.  Previous campaign themes have included a focus on women’s human rights defenders (WHRDs) and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Important aspects of the Campaign’s DNA is its ownership by all activists and the organic space within which they are able to give voice to those messages that are both context specific and reflect their vision for a world free of violence. The campaign is a marker in the continuing struggle to end gender-based violence. As such, it is an important piece of the contemporary movement for the realization of women’s rights and gender equality. This is in part further reinforced by the recognition that violence against women is a human rights violation. 

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence Campaign is a campaign that is part of a larger movement for the realization of human rights. Human rights movements often use campaigns to further goals, for example the anti apartheid movement in South Africa promoted the divestment campaign while the civil rights movement in the United States conducted the Montgomery bus boycott campaign. Similarly, women’s rights activists and allies participate in and support the 16 Days of Activism Campaign because of its particular role in the struggle for women’s human rights. It is important to note that at the local, national, regional and international levels there are other campaigns, including the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict, that aim to highlight issues related to violence against women in particular contexts. Together, these and other campaigns contribute to a mosaic of actions and a diversity of voices that are steadfast in bringing an end to gender-based violence and creating a world in which all peoples, and women in particular, can live without fear. 

As part of the complex and multilayered movement for the realization of women’s rights and gender equality, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence Campaign has contributed to feminist analyses and actions aimed at dismantling patriarchy and hetero-normativity, while promoting a world in which all peoples, and women in particular, are free from violations of their human rights. In the current moment where electronic media has contradictory roles in, and necessarily limited impact on, social movements and the cult of personality/celebrity promotes unsustainable actions, we must, as activists, remain steadfast in engaging in actions that result in social change. We must continue to challenge ourselves and our methods as we challenge our communities and governments to promote peace in the home and peace in the world and an end gender-based violence! 

This blog is dedicated to those who work for the realization of women’s rights and to a beloved human rights activist: Nelson Mandela.  

Savi Bisnath, PhD is the associate director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership. 

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