Dec 7, 2016

16-day Of Activism - Are You Ready To Do Your Bit?

Source : Business World


Are you an 'activist'? Your answer to this question is most likely to be a 'No'. And if I were to ask you why not? You are likely to say that you are not cut out to be an 'activist' or that you think it is not a particularly useful thing to do. However, I would like to argue that first of all you too are an activist at times without realising it Secondly, I would like to argue that activism does lead to far more positive outcomes than we think is possible. 

So let's first explore what activism means. The Cambridge dictionary defines activism as the use of direct and noticeable action to achieve a result usually a political or social one. The noticeable action can be a demonstration or a protest or a campaign. However, not every act of activism needs to conform to the latter. An individual's choice to use public transport is activism. A mother's decision to support higher education of her daughter and resisting the pressures of her extended family to marry her off is activism. Similarly an individuals' decision to minimize use of plastic in her day to day living is activism as well. One can argue that the number of people making these choices are too few to make a significant difference. For that to happen it is important that the issue is made visible in a manner where a large number of people get motivated to do their bit. Most social, political and environmental movements began with a handful of activists who were later joined by the masses. As more and more people join the public action they also start taking up the activism in their personal spheres. This is what leads to large scale social change.

An issue that has demanded urgent attention of societies across the world is the issue of violence against women and girls or Gender based violence. In 1993 the UN declaration of elimination of Violence against women defined Gender based Violence (GBV) as "any act that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life." This definition includes violence occurring in the family, within the general community, and violence perpetrated or condoned by the State. Forms of gender-based violence include, but are not limited to: domestic violence, sexual abuse, rape, sexual harassment, trafficking in women, forced prostitution, and harmful practices. In addition, women's multiple and intersecting identities based on factors such as class, race, ethnicity, religion, descent, sexuality and citizenship status can serve to increase their subordination and vulnerability to violence. It is estimated that one in three women throughout the world will suffer some form of gender-based violence in her lifetime. 

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is an international campaign originating from the first Women's Global Leadership Institute coordinated by the Center for Women's Global Leadership, Rutgers University, in 1991. The Participants chose the dates November 25- International Day Against Violence Against Women- and December 10- International Human Rights Day- in order to symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights. 

Every year, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign either introduces a new theme, or continues an old theme. The theme focuses on one particular area of gender inequality and works to bring attention to these issues and make changes that will have an impact. The Center for Women's Global Leadership sends out a "Take Action Kit" every year, detailing how participants can get involved and campaign in order to make a change. Over the years, more than 5,167 organizations in 187 countries have organized around the 16 Days Campaign, and the issue of gender-based violence has garnered a significant amount of international attention. 

Several organisation in India too conduct a range of activities during the16 days of activism. Over the years this action has also gained momentum in some state capitals and a few smaller towns. Given the increasing penetration of media especially social media, it is hoped that the issue is gaining greater visibility. To what extent it is leading to eliminating VAWG is an issue that needs to be studied. 

I am aware that there is still a large number of people and I know many - well educated, well exposed- who do not know about 16 days. As we get to know what this event stands for, let's make a beginning and start the change from ourselves. Let us look within, and commit ourselves to not tolerating any form of VAWG within our circle of influence. Let's understand what set of ideas or social norms makes our societies inflict such inhuman acts on women and girls. To begin with understanding 'Patriachy' and what it does to men and women is a good starting point. If one in three women experience violence in their lifetimes, then many of those women are around us, part of our lives- in our families, in our workplaces in our communities. The change has to begin with us.


Written by : Ranu Bhogal, Director- Policy Research & Campaigns, Oxfam India

Source: Business World

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