On Monday, 25th Nov 2019, we started the global 16 Days of Activism to eliminate violence against women. These 16 days of activism are observed every single year, 16 days during which organisations and individuals around the world call for action against the persistent and continuous violation of the basic rights of women around the world to a safe existence, through the gender-based violence they face. These 16 days are when around the world, we speak about gender based violence, sexist and discriminatory attitudes, and called for increased laws and measures to protect women’s interests and safeguard them against this violence.

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There is a history to how these 16 Days of Activism came about, and always, there is a story of women suffering violence behind it. In 1960, on 25th November, the Mirabal sisters, Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa, who were also political activists, were found clubbed to death, their broken bodies disposed at the bottom of a cliff. They had been opposing the violent Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic and it was suspected that the dictatorship had ordered them to be eliminated. These sisters, in their deaths, became the faces of the feminist resistance. In commemoration of their deaths, 25 November was declared International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in Latin America in 1980. This international day was formally recognised by the United Nations in 1999. In 1991, this International Day became the lead day for a global campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. Beginning on 25th November, the 16 Days ends on 10th December which is International Human Rights Day, emblematic of how Gender Violence is a Human Rights violation and needs to be considered as such.

These 16 days are when around the world, we speak about gender based violence, sexist and discriminatory attitudes, and called for increased laws and measures to protect women’s interests and safeguard them against this violence

These are 16 days in the course of an entire year, that highlight the cause of violence against women which continues to be endemic. It would seem nothing has changed, year on year. What is even the point, one would think, of doing this, of shouting oneself hoarse about violence against women, when the world goes right on with the horrific levels of violence it inflicts on a gender that is half the population? One must add though, that the ambit of violence against women must include trans women and those who identify as women.

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This violence is so widespread that we have now normalised it, across countries, across cultures. Calling out discrimination, harassment as unacceptable is part of this movement to protest against the horrific violence that these attitudes encourage, and escalate. There is a certain impunity that perpetrators assume while committing acts of violence against women that makes women themselves assume it as normal and expected. We walk down streets, ignoring the lewd comments, the catcalls, the brushing against, the groping. We know that we are at risk of being assaulted and raped if we are in a situation that leaves us vulnerable. These are but two ends of a spectrum of sexual violence and assault that we need to call out. One in three women in the world will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime. That is a disturbingly high ratio.

Research shows that 57 percent of boys and 53 percent of girls aged 15-19 believe that wife-beating is acceptable. One can only imagine how widespread this is in homes, that children find wife-beating acceptable and even regular.

What can speaking out do? For one, it helps reinforce the rather basic premise that it is not acceptable to commit violence against a woman. Strangely enough, this is something that needs to be instilled in the minds of our children from the earliest possible, or this cycle of violence against women will never end. But the statistics are alarming and dismaying. Around 50 to 70 percent of women in India face some sort of domestic abuse and violence. Of these, only two percent of the victims will approach the police. Amongst our next generation, these attitudes percolate and normalise. Research shows that 57 percent of boys and 53 percent of girls aged 15-19 believe that wife-beating is acceptable. One can only imagine how widespread this is in homes, that children find wife-beating acceptable and even regular. This is what most of them have probably grown up with. Shockingly, 75 percent of Indian women who have reported to be victims of domestic violence have also reported attempts to commit suicide.

Last year, the Thomson Reuters Foundation put out a report that listed India as the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman in. Afghanistan and Syria, both war torn nations, were ranked second and third. While this report, and India’s ranking on it, was the source of much outrage and debate, the fact remains that we are on this list, and if not the first, we are definitely pretty high up on the rankings. What put us up there, the very high risk of sexual violence and women forced into human trafficking. According to the Thomson Reuters report, “Government data shows reported cases of crime against women rose by 83 percent between 2007 and 2016, when there were four cases of rape reported every hour.”

How does this affect me, you might ask, why should I bother? I haven’t faced any violence, why should I get involved? The fact that you are here, reading this article is proof of how you’ve been luckier than most. For one, you’ve not been killed in the womb, or at birth, you have survived childhood in a country with a high childhood mortality rate. But countless other girls and women have. And by speaking out for those who have, we can change this unfair perception that violence against women is inevitable. We can propagate the fact that violence against women is unacceptable and that women have had enough. We can support the survivors of violence against women, speak out against violence, mobilise boys and men to be advocates and allies with women in this battle against violence, share stories, spread the word and above all, remove the shame that still cloaks women who suffer violence, whether domestic violence, physical violence or sexual violence. In speaking up, in speaking out, there is strength, there is solidarity and above all, there is the acknowledgment that this should not be our normal. That normal is a long way off, and our battle to reach there continues.

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Kiran Manral is the Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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