16 Days of Gender Activism and a Lifetime of "Holding Up Half the Sky" (Nov 25-Dec10)


Yesterday marked the end of 16 Days of Gender Activism (November 25-December 10, 2010) a yearly campaign created in 1991 by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership associated with Rutger's University. In creating a space of increased gender attention between November 25th, the International Day Against Violence Against Women and December 10th, International Human Rights Day, the organizers were making a profound symbolic statement: Violence Against Women Violates Human Rights.

Violence against women takes many forms: rape, sexual harassment, child marriage, wife beating, female genital cutting/mutilation, dowry-related violence, trafficking, sexual violence during wars, femicide, 'honour' killings, forced sterilization, bride kidnappings and for some, pornography. Violence is not always physical and can occur on psychological levels, powered by intimidation and harassment.

In addition to categories of violence, the Gender Inequality Index uses the following five indicators, to rank countries in terms of gender status: maternal mortality, adolescent fertility, parliamentary representation, educational attainment, and labor force participation. It was recently released that the Netherlands is the most sex equal country, meaning it gained a high score on 2010 Human Development Report, which takes both economics and social factors into consideration. The Big Think has created its own map to further show this stratification in equality based on data from the Gender Gap Report, (measures gender through economics, politics, education, health), Women's Economic Opportunity Index (ability for women to participate in the work force) and the UN's Gender Related Development Index/Gender Empowerment Measure (using issues such as adult literacy, life expectancy, and estimated income). Their map of women's global power Norway was the highest and Yemen the lowest. (Pictured Above)

As you can see "equality" is a very complicated topic, and is about making women safe and valued on a number of complex and nuanced levels. Gender violence not only impacts women and children, it impacts every member within society. When women are protected and enjoy equality, society as a whole benefits, which can even be measured in economic benefits.

Economists and social scientists have known this for a long time "Women Hold Up Half the Sky" based on an old Chinese proverb that is also the title of a book (Half the Sky) by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudoon, as well as an entire movement. On the most basic level, if women had equality, on both social and economic levels, their contribution to their societies would be revolutionary. Women wield economic power in very different ways than men and make very different economic decisions. It has been cited that women reinvest 90% of their income into their family and community in comparison to the 30-40% reinvestment by men. Women also invest in health and education, all factors, which help improve quality of life. As increases in education occur, women have better access to jobs, and with a larger percentage of the population able to work, this tremendously raises the economic status of a country. Closing the gender gap is just practical, used to appeal to those that unfortunately don't care about the gap simply out of human rights parody.
Each year, in consultation with women's human rights advocates worldwide, a new theme is chosen for the 16 Days of Activism. This year the theme was Structures of Violence: Defining the Intersections of Militarism and Violence Against Women. Militarism can be defined in many ways but it is used here as "an ideology that creates a culture of fear and supports the use of violence, aggression, or military interventions for settling disputes and enforcing economic and political interests." Therefore, in these situations women and children are most at risk, and militaristic thinking, unchallenged, privileges masculinity and "grant impunity to wartime perpetrators of violence against women." This particular theme addresses issues such as: domestic violence, refuge camps, sex slavery and women's role in peace negotiations just to name a few. The International Violence Against Women Act (H.R. 4594, S. 2982) is being proposed as an effort to end violence against women and girls across the globe by “for the first time comprehensively incorporate proven solutions to ending gender-based violence into all U.S. foreign assistance programs, as well as make ending violence against women a diplomatic priority. It would require the U.S. government to invest in grassroots women's organizations that are successfully working to reduce violence in their communities, and respond to critical outbreaks of gender-based violence in armed conflict in a timely manner,” based on a definition from AWID, Association for Women’s Rights in Development. According to the 16 Days of Activism Website: "While violence against women takes different forms according to its cultural context, the problem exists everywhere and working on the issue offers unique opportunities to build bridges across cultures, to learn from both similarities and differences, and to link strategies globally. "

So what are the goals of the 16 Days of Activism Campaign and how can you get involved in these issues all year long: To my mind, educate yourself on the issues, get the word out, and translate local activism into global action. Since 1991, over 3,400 organizations in approximately 164 countries have participated in the 16 Days Campaign, and it's critical that both men and boys also get involved in these events and movements as well. While we all need our markers in the year to get involved, the months to honor particular issues, we can get involved anytime. So just because the 16 Days are over, the issues still need our desperate attention. Get involved.

Learning Station:

To learn more about the 16 Days of Activism: http://16dayscwgl.rutgers.edu/about-16-days/activist-origins-of-the-campaign and ways to get involved: http://16dayscwgl.rutgers.edu/get-involved

To learn more about the Netherlands as the most sex equal country: http://www.undispatch.com/gender-equality-index-human-development-report

To learn more about the gender Inequality index: http://www.scribd.com/doc/41057048/Gender-Equality-Index

To learn more about Big Think's Map of Women's Global Power, with interviews of Saadia Zahid, a Director at the World Economic Forum: http://bigthink.com/ideas/24565?utm_source=Big+Think+Main+Subscribers&utm_campaign=0a4a14a3c9-Sonia_Nassery_Cole_October_27_201010_27_2010&utm_medium=email

To learn more about how female economic power improves society: http://bigthink.com/ideas/24536

To learn more about the Half the Sky book and movement: http://www.halftheskymovement.org/

To learn more about the International Violence Against Women Act: http://www.awid.org/Issues-and-Analysis/Library/Take-Action-Help-Pass-the-International-Violence-Against-Women-Act