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16 Days of Activism campaign aims to end violence against women and girls

Violence against women and girls is one of the most common and tolerated violations of human rights in existence today. To raise awareness of this global problem, an international effort called the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign was launched in 1991. The campaign begins on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (Nov. 25) and ends on Human Rights Day (Dec. 10) as a symbolic reminder that violence against women is a violation of human rights.

Today, there are hundreds of activities and events worldwide where buildings and landmarks are lit orange (the campaign’s color) in solidarity, people wear white ribbons indicating they’ll never commit or condone violence against women or girls, and an online action kit helps people lead their own “Orange the World” events in their communities and on social media.

"The campaign is an important opportunity for women to become empowered to speak up about the problems, and also to bring attention to this often-overlooked or downplayed issue," said Clea Sarnquist, DrPH, a researcher with the Stanford Packard Global Child Health Program.

Sarnquist and Stanford researcher Michael Baiocchi, PhD, have studied the efforts of No Means No Worldwide, a U.S.-based nonprofit. Its courses teach girls and boys ways to stop gender-based violence — and research has shown they are effective.

I reached out to Sarnquist to learn more about gender-based violence and the 16 Days of Activism campaign. Here's what she had to say:

What do you hope this campaign will achieve?

While recognition of the issue is helpful, action is better: Hopefully more people and organizations become inspired to tackle the issue in their communities. This includes private corporations, the philanthropic world, and governments, as they will need to take action to make large changes.

Do you think attitudes toward gender-based violence and sexual harassment are shifting?

Certainly, more attention is being paid to sexual violence in the U.S., and that is a first step. But it’s unclear if that attention has, or will create a change in attitudes or behavior. Right now there seems to be repercussions for perpetrators of sexual assault in the movie industry, but not so much for politicians. And that is only among highly public figures. We know most sexual assault goes unreported, and that is often has severe and life-long consequences for the victims and their communities.

What is the state of gender-based violence internationally? 

Globally, I think the shift in attention to and action on gender-based violence has been generally smaller, and definitely country-specific. There has been some backwards movement in some places, for example in Russia, where first offenses of non-fatal abuse of a wife or child are no longer a crime. We also have an overwhelming crisis of displaced people and refugees in the world currently, all of whom are at high risk of violence and exploitation. There are some encouraging changes as well, such as in India, which has passed several laws in the last five years criminalizing sexual assault in particular.

On the bright side, we are seeing a lot of really exciting student interest in this issue, from undergrads to post-docs. We have a vibrant and wonderful group here at Stanford working with us on lots of different angles of this project, so that is very hopefully not only for our own work, but for the future of this work and action on this issue.

Why is the 16 Days of Activism campaign important to you?

It's empowering for us, as researcher and educators, to be reminded of all of the incredible people and organizations who are deeply committed to this work.

Previously: Preventing sexual assault in Kenyan girls — Stanford researchers make inroadsSexual assault prevention program reduces pregnancy-related dropouts in Kenya and Male attitudes about sexual violence challenged by educational program in Kenya
Photo by Nichole Sobecki

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