By Robin Hindery
Friday, December 10, 2004
From cosmetics counters in luxury department stores to subways where performance art was carried out in secret, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence made all the world its stage.
(WOMENSENEWS)--What do a tube of lip gloss, a clothesline and a play performed in a crowded subway car all have in common?
They are all features of this year's international 16-day campaign season against gender violence, which started Nov. 25--on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women also known as International Day Against Violence Against Women--and ends today, International Human Rights Day.
The campaign, 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, was conceived as "a loosely coordinated network of organizers working under a common banner for a common cause," said its current coordinator, Sara Nordstrom.
That all-inclusive approach has resulted in a variety-show collection of initiatives ranging from grassroots projects to United Nations programs. While most initiatives this year were specifically tied to the 16 Days campaign, some defied strict categorization.
The tube of lip gloss, for example, was neither linked to an event nor limited in duration. Produced by Peacekeeper Cause-Metics, a small New York-based cosmetic line, the product is an effort to tap into the power of women's purses and increase awareness of the persistent problem of gender violence. Proceeds from the sale of Peacekeeper UNIFEM lip gloss are earmarked for UNIFEM's Trust Fund to Eliminate Violence Against Women.
Peacekeeper is said to be the first cosmetic line in history to give all of its profits after taxes to support women's health advocacy and human rights issues, said its founder and president, Jody Weiss. The lip gloss will sell for $16.50 in select, upscale stores such as Henri Bendel and Nordstrom.
That and scores of other ideas helped commemorate the 14th anniversary since the Center for Women's Global Leadership, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey in New Brunswick, organized the 16 Days campaign as a call for the global elimination of violence against women and girls.
The Rutgers center's Web site explains the choice of dates for the campaign--book-ending International Day Against Violence Against Women and International Human Rights Day--are an attempt to "symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights."
Organizations and individual activists find out about the campaign each year through outreach e-mail lists, newsletters and word of mouth, so the exact level of global participation each year is hard to quantify.
This year, it is estimated that over 50 countries and hundreds of individual organizations participated in the campaign, entitled, "For the Health of Women, For the Health of the World: No More Violence." That is an increase of about 10 countries from last year's participation, said Nordstrom, and she said she expects that estimate to rise as reports of other initiatives continue to flow in.
The topic of women's health was particularly high-profile this year because World AIDS Day on Dec. 1--in the middle of the campaign--focused this year on the alarmingly high rate of HIV infection among women and girls worldwide. A growing body of research, Nordstrom noted, is finding that specific attention must be paid to issues of gender-based violence in order to effectively deal with the current HIV/AIDS global crisis.
"Violence and the fear of violence hinders women's ability to prevent transmission of the virus and compromises their access to a range of services, including [HIV] testing and treatment," Nordstrom told Women's eNews. "Women also often experience further violence once they are or are perceived to be infected."
All over the world, a significant number of initiatives, both large and small, took place to start people talking and thinking about gender-based violence.
TwozywoFF, a group of feminist artists in Warsaw, Poland, decided on a more traditional, directly political approach: a poster that blared, "The Bitch has Provoked Me." The poster, which was displayed on 17 public trams in Warsaw throughout the 16 Days campaign, was a protest against sexual violence and stereotypes "justifying" that violence, such as the idea that some women's behavior somehow provokes men, said the group's co-founder, Magda Gryszko, in an e-mail interview.
The poster also listed the city's Crisis Intervention Center's 24-hour hotline in hopes that victims would seek help. If nothing else, Gryszko said, the campaign was meant to spark conversation in a city where "everyone pretends that the problem doesn't exist."
Subway passengers in Canada were confronted by a different spectacle, though some may not have realized it. A group of about 30 female graduate students from the Transformative Learning Centre at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University joined forces to put on a series of performances in public places around Toronto--some meant to be recognized as theater, and others meant to blend into daily life.
The "invisible theater," as the group called it, was based on the work of Augusto Boal, a Brazilian who specialized in experimental, interactive theater: theater hidden as daily life that was meant to provoke thought and conversation. Angela Lytle, one of the performers, asked that Women's eNews not describe the group's performance in detail, as part of the point is that the audience never realizes they witnessed a theatrical performance.
All that she would reveal about the scenes is that they were acted out in subways and involved a group of actors having an audible discussion about various aspects of violence against women. The group is in the process of creating a manual on invisible theater that can be used in the future to replicate and expand upon this year's performances.
Projects and initiatives in other countries were no less diverse, ranging from an exhibit in Ireland of 365 anti-violence posters from all over the world, to free women's health seminars in Pakistan, to daily Cyber Dialogues in South Africa that focused on a different topic related to gender violence each day.
Violence against women is a blight on American society as well--with intimate partner violence comprising about 20 percent of violence against American women, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics--and several groups campaigned to raise awareness of the problem.
One particularly dedicated group in Palm Beach County, Fla., was spearheaded by a husband-and-wife team, Penny Darling and Noam Brown. They formed a 16 Days campaign working group, organizing activities such as a film festival, a candlelight vigil and a women's health conference. The group also took part in a national effort called The Clothesline Project, which honors domestic violence victims and calls attention to the problem by displaying shirts designed by victims and their loved ones on clotheslines in public places.
Darling and Brown said some events were less well-attended than others, but they felt confident that their message wasn't falling on deaf ears. They plan to continue to expand their efforts in preparation for the 2005 campaign, Darling said.
"I can only imagine it will grow every year," she told Women's eNews.
In the coming year, the Center for Women's Global Leadership and other organizations will continue to think of ways to spread the word about gender-based violence, so that the 16 Days campaign can further expand its sphere of influence. The campaign was always destined for "enormous success," said its coodinator Nordstrom. She noted that since it started in 1991, over 2,000 organizations in approximately 140 countries have taken part.
Jodi Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity in Takoma Park, M.D., said that although the success of such campaigns cannot be directly measured, changes in the way society views violence against women have certainly taken place over the past decade.
"Gender violence has reached a higher level of global visibility in recent years, with all sorts of initiatives under way," she said.
"Here in the U.S.," she added, "there is far more lip service than action. We need to figure out how to better mobilize people in the U.S. around these issues."
Nordstrom said such mobilization will be a goal for the 16 Days campaign in the coming years. The problem of gender violence has not gone away, she said, and as important anniversaries approach--such as 2005's 10-year review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action supporting equal rights for women--it is vital for women's health and rights groups to form strong and lasting alliances.
Robin Hindery is a writer for Women's eNews in New York City.
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