The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an international campaign that takes place each year. It commences November 25 - the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women - and ends December 10 - Human Rights Day, indicating that violence against women is the most pervasive breach of human rights worldwide.
Activists at the inaugural Women's Global Leadership Institute initiated this campaign in 1991. Today, it is used by individuals and organisations around the world to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls (VAWG).
The UNITE to End Violence against Women initiative is a multiyear effort to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls around the world. The initiative, launched in 2008 under the leadership of the UN Secretary-General, was created to support the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence campaign around the world.
Managed by UN Women, UNiTE calls on governments, civil society, women’s organisations, young people, the private sector, media, and the UN system to join forces to address the global pandemic of violence against women and girls. UNiTE is a campaign that all can get involved in, and it calls for activism from an individual standing to what change must be driven and forefront by governments.
2023: The global theme of this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, is “UNITE! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls”.
Violence against women and girls remains one of the most prevalent and pervasive human rights violations in the world. Despite many countries passing laws to combat violence against women, weak enforcement and discriminatory social norms remain significant problems. Globally, an estimated 736 million women — almost one in three — have been subjected to physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both, at least once in their life (1) .
Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts, and climate change have further intensified violence against women and girls, exacerbated existing challenges and generated new and emerging threats. We can see, globally, that economic insecurity, disrupted livelihoods and limited social protection continue to increase women’s and girls’ vulnerability to violence. According to the Rapid Gender Assessment surveys (RGAs) on the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 conducted by UN Women in 58 countries, 45 per cent of women reported that they or a woman they know has experienced a form of violence since COVID-19 (2).
Main Principles of UNiTE campaign advocacy
The entirety of the UNiTE campaign and UNiTE activism means to support public campaigns that challenge patriarchal norms and reject misogyny and violence. And as this year's theme reminds us, it means standing with activists around the world who are calling for change and supporting survivors of violence. The principles which encompass all work and activism under “UNITE: Activism to End Violence Against Women and Girls” are:
Honour and acknowledge women’s movements and their leadership in the 16 Days of Activism and in preventing and fighting violence against women and girls in general.
Elevate the voices of young feminists and youth-led organisations: it is time to create platforms to elevate the voices of the next generation of feminists who are shaping their future now.
‘Leave No One Behind’: Apply a human rights-based approach and focus attention on the most underserved and disadvantaged groups of women and girls experiencing intersecting forms of harm in efforts to prevent and end violence against women and girls.
Survivor-centered: Take a respectful and ‘do-no-harm’ approach to the telling and/or retelling of survivor stories, only with their informed consent and under conditions in which they feel empowered to exercise their agency.
Whole-of-government and society strategies to prevent VAWG: Everyone in society has an important role to play in ending violence against women and girls and we all must work together across sectors to address the various aspects of violence.
Transformative: Fostering critical examination of gender roles, regimes, and practices in order to create or strengthen equitable gender norms and dynamics for fundamental, lasting changes for women and girls.
The theme and activities of the UNiTE campaign this year is Invest to Prevent Violence Against Women & Girls. It calls upon all UNITE networks, civil society and women’s rights organisations, organisations working with men and boys, the UN system, the Generation Equality Action Coalitions government partners, human rights defenders, schools, universities, private sector, sports clubs and associations and individuals to step up and support different prevention strategies to stop violence from occurring in the first place. Some of the key objectives and strategies state ‘[mobilising] all member states to allocate national budgets to prevent violence against women and girls, including through their own national action plans and prevention across education, health, and social protection sectors by incorporating VAWG prevention’. Furthermore, the campaign states that we must ‘call for greater support, increased long-term, sustainable investments from states, private sector, foundations, and other donors to autonomous women’s rights organisations working to end violence against women and girls in all their diversity.’
Some of these points may seem unattainable as an individual level or seem out of reach, however, the primitive objective is to invite everyone to be an ally in preventing violence against women and girls (VAWG) through taking a stand publicly, engaging in activities and events to raise awareness of VAWG in their communities.
This is something we can all participate in.
Eliminating violence against women is critical to the realisation of human rights and the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The pervasive and persistent nature of VAWG has prompted women’s rights activists and service providers to demand more action to tackle the underlying risks and drivers of violence. To tackle this we must, firstly, educate ourselves on the reality of violence against women and girls.
The global EU-UN Spotlight Initiative is the largest targeted effort to eliminate violence against women and girls led by the United Nations. This initiative demonstrates that a significant, concerted and comprehensive investment in ending violence can make a transformative difference in the lives of women and girls. For example, larger investments on efforts to end violence against women have doubled the conviction rate for gender-based violence across 12 countries and led to the strengthening of 477 laws or policies to end violence against women and girls. Double the number of women and girls have received justice due to the continuous activism and power toward a world free from gender-based violence.
Do not limit yourself to violence against women and girls in your own country - this is a global issue. Different parts of the world have different cultural nuances and understanding, it is important not to impose and project a Western viewpoint when researching and discussing VAWG in other parts of the world.
Understand how activism can make change. You can channel your activism into spreading the word. This can stem from online activism and local campaigning; the point is to get the message to as many people as possible. Some choose to take part in protests, some email local MPs and national governing bodies, and you can use your own social media to actively draw attention to the VAWD epidemic and demand a solution. Activism is not synonymous with physical intervention; it can be vocal and written.
All UNiTE partners must ensure that survivor advocates rights, safety, dignity, and confidentiality are prioritised and upheld. Furthermore, it is imperative to remove the narrative of “he said, they said, she said”.
Let’s remodel the narrative to be survivor-focused. Hear survivors. Listen to survivors. Believe survivors.
Do not essentialise women’s experience
Every woman's experience is different. We spoke earlier about how we should educate ourselves about VAWG at a global scale, and it is important to not essentialise the experience of Women from a certain country as a shared and similar experience that can be preventable in one way. Social protection can prevent and respond to VAWG by addressing economic insecurity, economic hardship, financial tensions and women’s autonomy. Recognise that no single social protection policy, programme or service can provide adequate coverage for the full range of risks, vulnerabilities or shocks that an individual may encounter throughout the course of their lives.
Wear the colour orange throughout the 16 days.
The colour orange continues to be a UN tool unifying all activities to bring global attention to the initiative, however, in light of the energy crisis, this year we are not calling upon partners to illuminate buildings and landmarks in orange or to do so for a limited period on 25 November. UNiTE invites partners to consider different ways of painting the world orange including through decorating buildings, wearing the colour orange and oranging digital spaces throughout the 16 days
Above all, violence manifests itself in physical, sexual and psychological forms, and by joining the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence and UNITE to End Violence against Women initiative, you are participating in the fight to end a violation of human rights globally.
1 WHO. (2018). Violence Against Women Prevalence Estimates: Global, regional and national prevalence estimates for intimate partner violence against women and global and regional prevalence estimates for non-partner sexual violence against women.
2 UN Women. (2020a). RESPECT Women: Preventing Violence Against Women: Implementation Package.