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Marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and 16 Days of Activism

Family Safety Victoria CEO commemorates this important time in the global calendar.

Monday 23 November 2020 3:49am

I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.

Audre Lorde, 1934-1992

Today, on 25 November, we commemorate the International Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a date that has been marked by women activists, feminists and other organisations for nearly 40 years, as a day of protest to end violence against women and girls.  

This date was first designated a day to end violence against women in 1981 at the Feminist Conference for Latin American and Caribbean Women in Colombia. At that conference, women of colour linked and denounced all forms of men’s violence against women - from domestic violence, rape and sexual harassment to state violence including torture and abuse of women political prisoners.  

The date was chosen to commemorate and pay tribute to three political activist sisters in the Dominican Republic – Patria, Maria Teresa and Minerva Mirabel – who were assassinated in 1960 during the Trujillo dictatorship. 

The Mirabal Sisters from left, Minerva, Maria Teresa and Patria. Source: Casa Museo Hermanas Mirabal

Eighteen years later, the United Nations General Assembly (UN) formally designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In doing so, the UN invited governments, international organisations and NGOs to organise activities to raise public awareness of the global nature of men’s violence against women on this day as an international observance.  

From 25 November to 10 December (Human Rights Day), these days collectively are known as the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, a time to galvanise action to end violence against women and girls around the world. This year the global theme is Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect! 

In Victoria, as we see restrictions gradually easing in response to the reduction of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, let’s not forget that the global pandemic of violence against women and girls continues to flourish across every part of our state and beyond.  

Violence against women and girls is among the most widespread and devastating human rights violations we face. A third of all women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, and half of all women who are killed worldwide are murdered by their partner, former partner or family member. Violence against women is as common a cause of death and incapacity for women of reproductive age as cancer. 

Across Australia, violence against women is estimated to cost the country of $21.7 billion a year. The social and emotional cost to women, children and men in our families and communities is immeasurable, as we live every day with the traumatic fallout of this largely invisible pandemic.   

In Australia, at least 45 women have lost their lives to violence against women since January. Thousands more women and children live daily with the legacies of violence and abuse, often exacerbated by experiences of discrimination and disadvantage. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women nationally, for example, are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised for family violence and 10 times more likely to die from a violent assault than other women in this country.

At Family Safety Victoria, we acknowledge the global evidence that feminist activism is the most important and consistent driver of transformative change to combat violence against women and girls. It is, therefore, in all our interests that Victoria continues to have a strong, autonomous feminist movement which puts the status, wellbeing and liberation of women and girls central to work on economic and social justice, legal, institutional and systems reforms and local community action to end violence and abuse.

This is why we are marking this important time in the global calendar in several ways, in solidarity with our partner agencies, advocates and activists in communities across Victoria. Our staff will be wearing orange and walking from home in the Walk Against Family Violence. For each of the 16 Days of Activism, members of the Victim Survivors' Advisory Council will share what respect means to them on Twitter and family violence workers will give us an insight into their diverse roles on LinkedIn.

Victim survivors of violence are disproportionately women, who face a spectrum of violence including sexual harassment, sexual abuse, family violence, forced marriage, so-called 'honour-based' violence, female genital mutilation, and online harassment and grooming. Perpetrators of violence against women are overwhelmingly men. 

We acknowledge the global evidence that the root cause of violence against women is gender inequality and how it intersects with sexism, racism and colonialism, disablism, ageism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. This is why an intersectional approach is central to all we do, that helps us understand, and take action to address, how power, privilege and oppression interact to create barriers and overlapping forms of discrimination and marginalisation

The UN’s 16 Days of Activism provides us with some space to remind us why we undertake this work, to acknowledge how far we have come but also recognise that there is still so much more to do. Any action we take must build from the margins to the centre to create a response for all women who currently will not or cannot access services, which is ‘grassroots’ informed, self-determined, and community-led.

As we plan to build back better from coronavirus, let’s remember that violence against women is not inevitable, it is entirely preventable. Which is why it’s vital we work together for a more just and equal society, because we know structural inequalities and their intersections underpin and exacerbate family violence and abuse.

Join me, during these 16 Days of Activism, to remember, celebrate, honour and acknowledge the work being undertaken by many passionate and committed women and men, across sectors and communities, to end violence against women. Become a supporter and ally of this work and of the feminists and activists in our communities.

Listen, speak up, amplify their voices, and take action in any way you can to end violence against women and all forms of gender-based violence. 

Eleri Butler
CEO Family Safety Victoria

Reviewed 23 June 2021

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