Beyond 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: Teaching our Sons, Engaging Men and Communities

Beyond 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: Teaching our Sons, Engaging Men and Communities

{Photo credit: Todd Shapera. Rwanda.}Photo credit: Todd Shapera. Rwanda.

“Please just cut to the chase! What do I need to know?” my son Jack asked.

As the mother of a 13-year-old boy, I’m witnessing firsthand how Jack and his buddies are adopting cultural male norms that neither one of us fully understands or endorses.

I’m also dealing with my own emotional dichotomy. Since my teens I’ve worked fervently to support women and girls equality, while more recently I find myself sympathizing with my son’s feelings: being left out of the conversation when it is focused solely on giving girls support. Imagine my surprise when said son (Jack) asked me about the “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence” campaign.

This was a teachable moment that I knew I had to seize.

You need to know some numbers, I said, how widespread the problem is, and why this campaign matters:

Have you seen these stats before?

Even better! That means the message is getting through. (Still: there's lots more to learn.)

Domestic/intimate partner violence is a worldwide epidemic. Weapons in the home also contribute to the devastation. According to Amnesty International and Oxfam International, having a gun in the home increases the risk of someone being murdered by 41 percent. For women, that number soars to 272 percent in the context of domestic/intimate partner violence.

And women often can’t get out of abusive relationships because they don’t have economic independence or the social support to make the move.

The theme for this year’s 16 Days campaign is, “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!” Research shows that where women are safe, countries are more safe. Where there’s war and unrest, women and girls are at greater risk for gender-based violence. The Campaign highlights that "militarism" and spending money on military might and war are often supported, while "the daily lives of women, children, and men who are denied social, political, economic rights and attacked or killed for advocating these rights," are frequently ignored.

For many women and girls, access to health is controlled by a husband/intimate partner/father. At MSH, we address gender through a health systems strengthening (HSS) lens. We apply gender-equitable strategies throughout our programs to help governments, communities, and institutions fulfill the right to health for all. Sometimes our work to promote gender equity and access to health for women and girls involves family, community or religious leaders, engaging men in gender mainstreaming activities, or empowering midwives, caregivers, and female community health workers.

A measure of our humanity

Gender-based violence is a violation of human rights; it is unequivocally linked to the United Nation’s human rights framework. So the 16 days campaign is not just about giving women and girls a break; it’s about giving guys a break too. Violence is never a solution and thinking that perpetrating violence is a normal way of going about life doesn't help any of us. (And men can be victims/survivors of intimate partner violence, too.)

Being safe in the world is an important measure of our own humanity.

“I get it!” he said.

“Let’s hope everyone does!”

Have you heard about 16 Days of Activism?

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender 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. It runs each year from November 25 (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) thru December 10 (Human Rights Day) to symbolically highlight that violence against women is a violation of human rights.

The need for teaching our sons and involving our communities doesn't end December 10. If you want to learn more, please visit these resources:

Learn more about MSH’s work on gender