International Day For the Elimination of Violence Against Women: The UN Stands Up For Women

November 25 commemorated the lives of the Mirabal sisters and the feminist women of the Dominican Republic who denounced gender and state violence, and the deaths of thousands of women in the United States who fell victim to such violence. Sunday marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, kicking off 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence that highlight the connection between women, violence, and human rights. November 25 stands as a reminder to the world, local organizations, and most importantly, ordinary citizens to say “No” and unite to end violence against women.

Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women — more than car accidents, mugging, and rape combined. Each year in the United States, one-third of murdered women are killed by their intimate partners. (1,638 deaths of women were reported in the year 2007 alone.)

Now in its third year, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership continues to address the intersection of gender-based violence and militarism with the global theme “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!” This could not be a more timely message, especially after the world has grappled with the terrible war in Gaza, effaced millions that were displaced in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and battled the terrorizing regime in Syria, all of which have resulted in the deaths of thousands of women and children. 

While penetrating the large infrastructures of social misogyny in war and power is not so easy, the United Nations General Assembly has come to honor Resolution 54/134 of December 17, 1999 and invites governments, international organizations, and NGOs to organize activities designed to take a collective approach in raising public awareness about domestic violence.

Essentially, the goals are multi-fold:

Raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional, and international levels.

Strengthen local work around violence against women.

Establish a clear link between local and international work to end violence against women.

Provide a forum in which organizers can develop and share new and effective strategies.

Demonstrate the solidarity of women around the world organizing against violence against women.

Create tools to pressure governments to implement promises made to eliminate violence against women.

For the next 16 days, nationwide television and video programming, press conferences, film screenings, workshops, seminars panels, demonstrations, art exhibitions, lectures, public education campaigns, street dramas, and community programs will be held to energize, direct, and sprawl  local activism into a global movement.  And you are very much the center of this campaign!

The UN's Say NO - UNiTE campaign invites you to join the network of millions of activists by the simple act of finding out and attending events where you live. In New York City alone, three films — Half the Sky, Revolution 1960, and NO! The Rape Documentary —will be screened at different locations. Several spoken word or speech events, workshops, and men’s roundtable discussions will be facilitated in order to metabolize grassroots support and awareness about intimate partner violence.  

The Internet also brings activism much closer to you than previously possible. The campaign features online programs, where web-based interfaces help to instantly share stories, testimonies, and your solutions to address issues of violence, war, and loss for women overseas. Just search with the keyword “Online.” And while you join the movement today, don’t forget to wear your best orange to stand in solidarity with the campaign.

And there is more good news — you are not alone! Before the campaign even began today, over 5 million activists signed the global call to support Say NO - UNiTE. If you are a teacher, government official, and community organizer, you can click here to learn more about what you can do to help.  

Since the campaign began in 1991, 4,100 organizations in approximately 172 countries have participated in the 16 Days Campaign. At present, only a handful of countries, including the United States, have committed to take concrete actions to respond to end violence against women. Austria has set us off in the right direction by including gender responsive budgeting practices in their national security budget. Germany intends to establish a national hotline number by 2013 and eliminate unequal pay between men and women by the end of this year. The United States aims to reduce domestic violence homicides in up to 12 communities by 2013, through identifying best practices in violence intervention.

The 16-day period also highlights other significant dates: November 29 (International Women Human Rights Defenders Day), December 1 (World AIDS Day), December 3 (theAnniversary of the Montreal Massacre), and December 10 (International Human Rights Day).  The November 25 campaign will progressively lead us to commemorate the lives of women lost by domestic violence on December 10 as acts of grave human rights violation. By placing women’s safety and concerns within the human rights paradigm, the campaign hopes to no longer relegate abuse as a “private” or “domestic” affair. Instead, the campaign will demand accountability from the States to secure protection and fulfillment  of the rights of women, who make up half its citizens.

Considering that 15 to 76%of women may be abused in their lifetimes, I am compelled by reason to urge that this is the time for each of us to become the Mirabal sisters and embed ourselves in the movement to end violence against women. As the U.S. Congress returns to session, we must ask our state legislatures to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). It’s imperative that we become part of national and international efforts to create a safe environment not just for a few but for all women, as we stand up for our right to live.