Gender-based violence (GBV) remains one of the most critical issues impacting women around the world, with 35% of women globally having experienced some form of physical or sexual violence. Many more are victims of economic violence, prevented from accessing education or participating in the workforce by social and cultural norms that undermine women’s basic human rights.
In 2020, GBV emerged as a crisis within a crisis with the escalation of COVID-19. Stay-at-home orders, school closures, job losses, economic insecurity, food shortages, and other pressures have led to alarming increases in all forms of GBV in countries worldwide – putting the well-being, livelihoods, and lives of millions of women and girls at risk.
Now, as the world marks the start of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence – an annual campaign taking place from 25 November to 10 December – it’s more critical than ever to talk, advocate, share, and act as we work together toward a future of justice and peace.
Here, we highlight how WILPFers around the world are demanding – and creating – change for women and girls.
WILPF Ghana: Ending GBV through the Power of Education
“The need for women and their partners to be educated about the roots and impacts of GBV cannot be overemphasised. Education plays a vital role in the reduction of violence against women and girls.” – Ayo Ayoola-Amale, President, WILPF Ghana
Although Ghana has been named one of the safest nations in Africa in terms of political stability, the presence of conflict, and relations with neighbouring countries, women face high rates of physical and sexual violence.
Ayo Ayoola-Amale, President of WILPF Ghana, says her Section is focused on combatting GBV by educating Ghanaians about damaging cultural norms. “Through our End Gender Violence Campaign, we are working to create a culture that values women and girls,” she says. “We work closely with women and communities to stop the practices of female genital mutilation and early or forced marriage, reduce stigma that prevents menstruating girls from crossing the river to school, put an end to dowry-related violence and marital rape, and much more.”
Recognising school-based violence against girls as a critical issue in the country, WILPF Ghana is also delivering a campaign to promote violence-free learning environments and improve access to education for girls.
“The very fact that women live in fear of violence is an attack on their basic rights,” says Ayoola-Amale. “It prevents them from living full and equal lives. We are committed to changing that.”
WCLAC Palestine: Providing On-the-Ground Support for Survivors of Abuse
“Justice for women experiencing violence starts with emergency care, the ability to report, and access to legal support.” – Randa Siniora, General Director, WCLAC Palestine
In Palestine, high unemployment rates, patriarchal structures, and the pressures of living under a military occupation contribute to high rates of physical, sexual, and psychological violence against women – rates that have increased during COVID-19.
Randa Siniora, General Director of the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC) – a non-profit organisation and WILPF partner based in Ramallah – says that COVID-19 has not only put women at greater risk of GBV due to being locked in with their abusers, but has severely limited their ability to contact support services and access care, protection, and justice. These findings and more are shared in a report released by WCLAC in July describing the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on Palestinian women.
“Prior to COVID-19, Palestinian women and girls were already facing profound challenges as a result of Israeli policies that negatively impact the Palestinian civilian population, including a permit system that restricts civilian movements, and the effects of over 13 years of Israeli blockade over the Gaza Strip,” says Siniora. Combined with these existing realities, the COVID-19 lockdown has had a disproportionately negative impact on women and girls, particularly the most vulnerable groups – including victims of GBV.
As a leading resource for women experiencing violence, WCLAC has been working around the clock to support victims of GBV. The organisation developed an emergency response plan to meet the increasing needs of women victims of GBV and provides 24/7 free legal and social aid services to victims of violence through helplines and online resources. WCLAC also joined efforts to advocate for the passage of the Family Protection Bill, which will ensure the availability of a comprehensive protection system for women victims of GBV.
WILPF Sri Lanka: Advocating for Peace through Disarmament
“We believe in promoting disarmament education to support sustainable peace in post-conflict Sri Lanka. Therefore, we educate youth and women on disarmament in order to prevent violence against women and girls.” – Nadee Gunaratne, WILPF Sri Lanka
Although women in Sri Lanka enjoy better maternal and child health, life expectancy, and educational attainment compared to many other South Asian countries, rates of GBV are consistently high.
To raise awareness of gender-based violence in Sri Lanka and advocate for change, WILPF Sri Lanka is focused on addressing specific issues impacting the well-being of women – including eliminating weapons to build a future of sustainable peace.
In 2018, WILPF Sri Lanka conducted a study exploring the use of weapons in cases of gender-based violence. The report found that factors such as poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse, and community unrest have contributed to a rise in the number of small arms and light weapons available in Sri Lanka, both during and after the Sri Lankan Civil War (1983-2009). The report also found that small arms have been used to victimise women and girls, including through both physical and psychological harm.
To achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 16.3, the report states that Sri Lanka should significantly reduce the flow of illicit arms and financial resources for the arms trade.
In 2020, the Section put its findings into action by hosting disarmament training for youth and civil society activists in Sri Lanka. Participants were educated about the role weapons play in threatening human security around the world and their specific role in perpetuating GBV.
Prathapa Tiranagama, President of WILPF Sri Lanka, says the sessions created a profound impact for many participants. “Many said that this was the first time they had learned about the global context of weapons and the challenges they present nationally and internationally, which helped them to understand the role of civil society in achieving disarmament and sustainable peace,” she says.
WILPF Switzerland: Demanding Justice through Systemic Change
“Think global, act local.” – Helena Nyberg, WILPF Switzerland
Despite Switzerland’s reputation as one of the most progressive nations in the world, gender-based violence is a widespread issue impacting at least one in five women in the country. One of the last countries to give women the right to vote, Swiss society remains deeply influenced by patriarchal structures, systems, and cultural norms that contribute to high rates of GBV.
WILPF Switzerland is a leading voice for the elimination of violence against women and girls, including through its participation in 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence since the campaign first began in 1991.
As part of its commitment to drawing attention to the roots of violence against women, which include the impacts of war and the global arms trade, in 2019 WILPF Switzerland mobilised several hundred women activists and their allies to participate in the national women’s strike – the first to take place since 1991, when women united to protest the country’s slow implementation of gender equality laws.
“Women came to watch, speak, and share as WILPF Switzerland demanded that the federal government put a stop to funding the arms trade,” says representative Helena Nyberg. “We then gathered together and joined the strike march in Zurich, which brought together 150,000 women – and 500,000 all throughout Switzerland.”
A Global Call to Action
Eliminating violence against women and girls starts with a commitment from each of us to educate, advocate, organise, and act.
Get started today by joining the feminist peace movement. Start a WILPF Section, become a member, or donate to help advance the work of women around the world who are making progress toward a brighter future.