NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey—In 1991, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University launched the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign. Within 24 years, this campaign’s influence has reached all across the world.
The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign began when a group of 23 women got together at the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute (WGLI) to discuss gender-based violence. The women came from all over the world with many different occupations, but they had one thing in common: They were leaders looking to make a difference for women in communities across the globe.
The primary goals of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence are to raise awareness, to pressure governing bodies and to educate the public about gender-based violence. The theme of this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, which lasted from November 25 to December 10, was the role of militarism and the right to education.
In the 2015 Theme Announcement, the WGLI notes that, “In 2014, global military spending stood at $1.8 trillion, while experts cite a $26 billion financing gap to achieve basic education for all by end of 2015.”
Lack of education is directly related to gender-based violence and discrimination, and perpetuates the cycle of poverty for women.
Women and girls often do not have the resources or are too afraid to go to school. Today 62 million girls around the world are not receiving any education.
United Nations research estimates that 246 million girls and boys face violence at school each year, and one in four girls are scared to use the bathrooms at school for fear of being abused or raped.
According to studies by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), when girls complete an education, they are three times less likely to contract HIV/AIDS and their children are twice as likely to survive past the age of five years old.
Educating women and girls also has major economic benefits. USAID reports that, “individual earnings increase by 10 percent for each year of school completed.” A report by the McKinsey Global Institute states that, “the global economy would grow by $28 trillion by 2025 if women participated in the labor force as the same rate as men.”
When the campaign first launched, WGLI knew it was taking on a big task. At the time, gender-based violence was not considered a major global issue.
“In 1991… policy-makers regarded this work as an obscure non-priority that would divert resources from the ‘really important’ issues,” says Simone G. Diniz of Brazil, one of the original 23 participants in the WGLI.
Another difficulty was the lack of social media, which now makes mass communication much easier. To get gender-based violence on the global agenda, interns at WGLI had to print and circulate a petition around the world.
This petition was eventually translated into 23 languages and reached 124 countries. It called on the U.N. to add gender-based violence to their agenda in conferences such as the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.
Today, more than 5,478 organizations, policymakers and governments in more than 187 countries participate in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. This includes organizations like the U.N. and USAID, which have launched their own campaigns with the hashtag #orangetheworld and #16Days.
In 2015, the U.N. included eliminating gender-based violence as a target within its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, to be reached by 2030.
“Almost two decades later, it is very impressive to see how violence against women has been mainstreamed into public opinion, with the help of the 16 Days campaign,” says Diniz, “Laws changed, public policies were created and expanded, and new fields of knowledge were developed.”