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Reflections on the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence


written by Maria Safari

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual international campaign that kicks off on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until 10 December, Human Rights Day. It was started by activists at the inaugural Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991 and continues to be coordinated each year by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership. It is used as an organizing strategy by individuals and organizations around the world to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. This year the Campaign will focus on the issue of “femicide or the gender-related killing of women.”


According to the latest estimates, nearly 1 in 3 women aged 15 years and older, around the world have been subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner, non-partner or both, at least once in their lifetime, indicating that levels of Violence Against Women and Girls have remained largely unchanged over the last decade. These numbers do not reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and would be even higher if they included the full continuum of violence that affect women and girls including sexual harassment, violence in digital contexts, harmful practices and sexual exploitation.


COVID-19 has exacerbated all the risk factors for Violence Against Women and Girls, including unemployment and poverty, and reinforced many of the root causes such as gender stereotypes and harmful social norms. It has been estimated that 11 million girls may not return to school because of COVID-19, thereby increasing their risk of child marriage. The economic fallout is expected to push 47 million more women and girls into extreme poverty in 2021, reversing decades of progress and perpetuating structural inequalities that reinforce Violence Against Women and Girls. Emerging data from a recent multi-country rapid gender assessment on the impact of COVID-19 on Violence Against Women by UN Women, using innovative remote data collection methods, confirm an increase of Violence Against Women as a result of COVID-19 in Cameroon, Kenya, Thailand and Ukraine.


The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that the world was unprepared to respond to the rapid escalation of all forms of Violence Against Women and Girls. If we want to ensure that no woman or girl is left behind, we need comprehensive and inclusive approaches that can be adapted to rapidly changing contexts, preventing and responding to all forms of Violence Against Women and Girls.


The involvement of all stakeholders in the mobilization against violence against women, especially in the current context of the COVID pandemic, is essential. This year, the theme set by the Secretary General’s UNiTE campaign was Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect, with a focus on gender-based violence (GBV) in the context of COVID-19.


Due to the lockdowns, services have been forced to define new working modalities to meet the specific needs and expectations of survivors, victims, and people at risk of gender-based violence. UN Human Rights worked with national and local actors to support victims and provide essential services, including the criminal justice system.


Finally, the COVID pandemic has highlighted the need for GBV development programmes to respond to the real and expressed needs of women and girls, which is possible through data collection and flexible funding that prioritizes GBV prevention in the COVID-19 budgetary stimulus packages for women’s organizations. Through its’ human rights monitoring mandate, as well as its’ advocacy work towards duty bearers, UN Human Rights advocated for a rights-based approach, which is central to ensuring these imperatives.


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