The 16 days of activism to end violence against women and girls fall between the 25th of November and the 10th of December. This year, the theme is ‘Orange the World’, to raise money for organisations working to support women and girls, and to challenge violence against them.
Often, themes tie in with human rights issues and how they impact on women. The 16 days of activism have been marked since 1991 in at least 187 countries around the world.
Organisations, groups and individuals try to mark the period with events and awareness-raising on relevant issues. The two dates – the beginning and end of the 16 days – both have particular significance.
Why the 25th of November?
The 25th of November is International Day Against Violence Against Women. This was first marked in Latin America to commemorate the violent assassination of the Mirabal sisters on that date in 1960 by the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.
This is a photograph of the sisters by Alvaro Diaz y Adony Flores – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
The sisters were forced to attend a party held by the dictator, and when he made unwelcome advances towards Minerva, she refused him and later slapped him, when he did not take no for an answer. She fled the party with her sisters. Her father was soon imprisoned and mistreated to the extent that he died soon after being released. Minerva and her mother were imprisoned in a hotel and told they could only leave if Minerva slept with the dictator. Luckily, they managed to escape. A law student, Minerva found herself banned from classes until she made a public speech praising Trujillo. Once she graduated, she was denied her license to practise law.
The president also turned his attention to the rest of the family – they were spied on and persecuted. This had the effect of turning them into revolutionaries. The sisters’ code name became ‘Las Mariposas’ – the butterflies. They struggled against the regime, distributing pamphlets and joining with others to overthrow the dictator. They were imprisoned but there was international outcry and they were released. When their husbands were imprisoned, the sisters were trapped in the mountains on their journey to visit them. They were murdered and this horrific act galvanised the Dominican people to fight and ultimately to overthrow the dictator.
Why the 10th of December?
December 10th is International Human Rights day. Usually, the theme of the 16 days is closely tied in with human rights.
‘Violence Against Women Violates Human Rights’, ‘Bringing Women’s Human Rights Home’, ‘Demand Human Rights in the Home and the World’, ‘Building a Culture of Respect for Human Rights’, and ‘From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!’ are some of the themes in previous years.
While many organisations campaign to release political prisoners, or to end oppressive regimes, it can be harder to find voices focussing on infringements of human rights taking place in the home: in the private sphere. Abuse happening to women and girls ‘behind closed doors’ used to be looked on as a private matter for a husband or a father.
The 16 days of activism has played a huge part in challenging this dangerous belief.
Women’s abusers can keep them prisoner unjustly, restrict their right to associate with whom they wish, physically harm and even kill them. These and other clear human rights violations should be taken extremely seriously.
It can be hard for women to find justice when there are no witnesses, but we can all clearly stand up and say that human rights violations are always wrong, and that personal relationships do not change this.
Dates in between 25th November and 10th December:
November 29th is International Women’s Human Rights Defenders Day. December the 1st is World Aids Day, and it’s important to recognise the ways that women living with HIV and AIDS are affected by the virus.
The 6th of December is an incredibly important date for those of us who fight for women’s rights. It Is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada. This is the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, when a man named Marc Lepine armed himself with a rifle and a knife, and killed 28 people, 14 of them women. He said he was ‘fighting feminism’ and seemed to view the women studying engineering as ‘a bunch of feminists’, simply for studying for a degree in a male-dominated profession.
His suicide note blamed feminists for ruining his life. Due to the explicitly political and anti-women motives of the killing, women’s groups make an effort to commemorate the date.
Marc Lepine’s actions shocked a generally peaceful nation. While resistance to women’s liberation is not always so brutal, it does exist wherever women fight for our rights, and it’s so important we support one another at home and around the world.
Plaque at École Polytechnique commemorating victims of the massacre
What Amina does during the 16 days
As an organisation working to empower Muslim women, we raise awareness of our work in the community, and with national organisations. We ensure the voices of Muslim women are heard, as there are still barriers to Muslim women seeking help if they experience violence.
Amina staff attend and host events where we work together to end violence against women. We also remind everyone of our You Can Change This campaign. We get involved in activities like Reclaim The Night.
This is a march where the streets are reclaimed in the hours of darkness, and sexual violence is condemned publicly.
This year, we are co-facilitating events with DUIS, the Empower Project, Strathclyde University Union, Abertay Students’ Association and WRASAC Dundee & Angus so that local women from Muslim and BME backgrounds can learn more about violence against women. We’re also launching our film ‘’Cos I’m a girl’.
Wherever you are, I urge you to get involved – you can change this!