When the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence campaign began on November 25 — the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women — one of the first (of many) stories that astounded me concerned the pervasive and disturbing practice of securing “brides” at Syrian refugee camps in Jordan. An article in the Washington Post described how older men from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain, and even as far as Canada are brokering marriages with vulnerable Syrian women.
“U.N. officials said that most of the marriages are brokered and that many are not consensual. The results, they said, include increasing numbers of child brides and marriages that, in some cases, end in abandonment or forced prostitution. U.N. and Jordanian relief agencies estimate that some 500 underage Syrians have been wed this year.”
This is just one of many examples of injustices against women — which are often disguised as “humanitarian” efforts in response to war — and it highlights the challenges of sexual violence after conflict.
This year’s 16 Days campaign, which is based on the theme “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence against Women,” aims to continue the work done in 2011 to challenge militarism and explore the deep socioeconomic structures that perpetuate gender-based violence. More than 4,000 organizations from 172 countries have participated in the campaign since it launched at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers in 1991. The campaign ends on December 10 — Human Rights Day. These dates were chosen to emphasize that gender-based violence is a violation of human rights. The campaign is successful because of the activism of millions of women and tens of thousands of organizations worldwide that are committed to ending gender-based violence.
The 16 Days campaign is an opportunity to reflect on what everyone can do to hold governments accountable and challenge the structures that allow gender-based violence to continue. Participation in the campaign is a chance to join other advocates to raise awareness about gender-based violence and to add your voice to those of women in other countries and regions who refuse to be silent. Gender-based violence is an issue that impacts all of us at multiple levels, and our governments have a responsibility to respond, protect, and prevent.
AAUW joins Women and Girls LEAD in promoting Women, War, and Peace; Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide; and The Invisible War — films showcased in this year’s campaign that amplify the stories of survivors and educate the public about the factors that contribute to violence. Be part of the global movement to end gender-based violence by watching the films, sharing the facts, and taking action.