Office of Government Relations

16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence

December 3, 2020
Office of Government Relations

By: Christian Omoruyi, Intern at Office of Government Relations

Last week marked the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, a global campaign that has run every year since 1991 from November 25 to December 10. These 16 Days of Activism were originally launched by women’s rights activists to commemorate the date in which the Mirabal sisters, pro-democracy activists in the Dominican Republic, were brutally murdered for advocating against their country’s dictatorial regime.

To honor the legacy of the Mirabal sisters and other victims of gender-based violence (GBV), the founders of the 16 Days campaign petitioned the United Nations to recognize GBV as a human rights issue. Consequently, the UN World Conference on Human Rights agreed to the Vienna Declaration in 1993, which deemed GBV as “incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person” and urged the international community to eradicate it.

Since the Vienna Declaration, the United Nations has observed the 16 Days campaign and redoubled its initiatives against GBV. The UN has designated a Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, and UN Women works on efforts to curtail all forms of GBV. The international community has made noteworthy strides in curtailing GBV as the socioeconomic fortunes of women have risen in countries around the world.

However, the scourge of GBV still adversely impacts the well-being of hundreds of millions of women. One in three women worldwide will endure GBV in her lifetime, according to the World Bank. Thirty percent of all women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner. More than 125 million women and girls alive today have been subjected to female genital mutilation.

GBV inflicts severe physical and emotional harm which has long-lasting health effects. It is often traumatizing for those who experience it—victims of GBV are more likely to suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress, and anxiety and eating disorders. In developing countries with poor mental health services, a lack of options for care can be devastating for victims.

GBV also bodes poorly for reproductive health. As the World Health Organization warns, GBV can cause “unintended pregnancies, induced abortions, gynecological problems, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.” Violence against women by intimate partners increases the likelihood of victims having miscarriages, stillbirths, preterm births, and underweight babies. GBV in the home can have intergenerational ramifications. According to UNICEF, “The single best predictor of children becoming either perpetrators or victims of domestic violence later in life is whether or not they grow up in a home where there is domestic violence.”

Alarmingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to an uptick in GBV as families are confined to their homes. Numerous countries have witnessed a surge in calls to domestic violence hotlines and requests for emergency shelter. Femicides, targeted killings of women, have increased in multiple regions and sparked protest movements in Mexico and Turkey. Experts warn that this pandemic-induced surge in GBV could cost the global economy at least $1.5 trillion and roll back decades of hard-won progress towards gender equality.

COVID-19 has underscored the importance of making GBV a thing of the past. As numerous resolutions passed by General Convention have reaffirmed, The Episcopal Church has long been committed to supporting efforts to end GBV. This year, the Office of Government Relations (OGR) has been advocating for the passage of the Safe from the Start Act, legislation that would expand the ability of the federal government to prevent GBV and intervene at the onset of humanitarian emergencies to protect at-risk women and girls. Furthermore, various reports have shown reductions in GBV when girls pursue tertiary education and achieve economic self-sufficiency through labor force participation. To that end, OGR has also advocated for passage of the Keeping Girls in School Act of 2019, a bill that would marshal U.S. foreign assistance programs to address barriers that keep millions of girls from pursuing education.

Ultimately, ending GBV will require more than humanitarian intervention and education. Outdated laws on the books that infringe on the rights of women and girls in marriage, employment, and ownership of assets must change, as must hearts. Policies against GBV must be fully implemented and emphatically enforced. If cultural norms in both the Global North and Global South are going to be transformed, men and boys must be engaged in anti-violence initiatives that nurture healthy, affirming relationships, challenge gendered beliefs, and promote gender equality.

A world without GBV is a world where everyone reflects the image of the God who made them. In unison, we can fight against GBV for not just 16 days, but all 365 days of every year.

For more opportunities to learn and take action during these 16 Days and year round, visit Episcopal Relief and Development’s 16 Days of Activism Toolkit.

The Office of Government Relations