16 days, 16 ways. How we can help end violence against women and girls

A woman with her hand in front of her face. Written on her hand is "STOP"

By Seri Wendoh, IPPF's Global Lead for Gender and Inclusion

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) kicked off on November 25  the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends today 10 December  Human Rights Day.

Gender-based violence refers to harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender and is rooted in gender inequality, the abuse of power and harmful norms. Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is a human rights violation and a public health issue. It can include physical, sexual, economic, and psychological violence, as well as threats, coercion, child and early forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and so-called ‘honour killings.

Sadly, it is estimated that one in three women (35%) of women worldwide will experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime. This figure has remained largely unchanged for the last decade. Violence against women and girls also disproportionately affects low-income countries.

To mark the 16 Days campaign, here are 16 ways to help end violence against women and girls.

1. Listen to survivors and believe them

It takes a lot of courage to share experiences of gender-based and sexual violence, and knowing that their experiences are heard can aid healing and encourage more survivors to speak out.

2. Increase the visibility of young women and girls in discussions concerning their sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights

All conversations leading to policy change should be led by and involve survivors. A ‘survivor-centred’ respectful approach to sexual and gender-based discussions can encourage other survivors to come forward without fear of stigma.

3. Stand up against the normalization of sexual violence in all its forms

Rape culture is the social environment that allows sexual violence to be normalized and justified. Acknowledging the normalization of sexual violence is the first step to dismantling it, and educating men and boys on positive masculinity, respectful relationships, and consent are just some ways to disrupt it. Leaders respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights obligations to gender equality can help too.

4. Call for adequate support services

Many women and girls lack access to the most basic free essential services for their safety, protection and recovery, such as emergency helplines, safe accommodation, proper police and justice responses, sexual and reproductive health care and psycho-social counselling. Where these services exist, they are underfunded and understaffed. Governments must provide free support for survivors of gender-based violence, including comprehensive training for health providers. Individuals can support campaigns that demand adequate funding for support services.

5. Comprehensive sexuality education

Comprehensive sexuality education is vital to teach young people about bodily autonomy, their relationships with each other and to help them understand that freely given consent is mandatory every time. Equipping young people with knowledge about their rights and healthy and safe relationships has a long-term positive effect on their health and well-being.

6. Educate young people but also listen to them

Education is essential, but listening to young people’s experiences is also crucial to empowering the next generation. If young people feel heard, they are more likely to want to instigate change.

7. Data is key – utilise it

One in three women and girls will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, and learning the statistics means you can share the right information when needed. Collecting and utilising relevant data is also vital for governments to implement successful prevention measures and provide survivors with the right support, especially when reaching marginalised and underserved women. Legislations and policies should also cover comprehensive definitions of all forms of sexual gender-based violence.

8. Take time to educate yourself on gender-based issues

Learn the signs of gender-based violence and abuse and how to help someone in need. There is support for survivors of gender-based violence if you know where to look, and action today could help save someone’s life tomorrow.

9. Challenge gender norms that lead to gender inequality

Harmful gender norms can lead to gender inequality and, in turn, higher rates of gender-based violence. For example, gender norms can keep girls out of education and higher paid work, limiting their independence, increasing their financial dependence on men and making it difficult to leave violent situations. Gender norms can also leave the voices and experiences of girls undervalued and ignored. By challenging and changing harmful social norms, we can increase gender equality and reduce gender-based violence.

10. Hold yourself and other people accountable

Accountability means taking responsibility for your actions and knowing that your actions can directly affect others. Challenge your peers to reflect on their behaviour and speak up when someone crosses the line.

11. Support each other and condemn violence against women 

Together we stand divided we fall. Supporting women and those working to end gender-based violence is essential to achieving gender equality and ending violence against women; this includes government’s and leaders condemning all acts of violence and discrimination against women. Individuals can support a survivor, share a post on social media or volunteer on a helpline. By supporting each other, we can help create a safer environment for everyone.

12. Donate to and fund women’s rights organizations

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many women and girls trapped in closed environments with their abusers. Even a small amount to an organization working to combat gender-based violence can make a difference, especially when so many organizations are struggling with reduced funding but increased demand for services. Donating toiletries, sanitary products, clothes, bedding and toys to a local women’s refuge or support service for women and their children who have escaped domestic violence situations can help too. When people and governments recognise women’s rights organizations as expert partners in the fight to end violence against women, everyone benefits.

13. Use social media

Using social media platforms to start a conversation and show solidarity with survivors of gender-based violence is just a small act that can create change in communities.

14. Share success stories, positive role models and solutions that work

When people see positive role models and solutions, they feel more empowered to help make a difference too. Positive and diverse representation is also important. 

15. Protect women and girls in digital spaces

Gaps in criminal laws mean that misogyny is rife in digital spaces, with women and girls subject to online harassment, cyber-flashing, revenge porn and other forms of digital gender-based violence. Laws must be designed to protect women, with proper content moderation systems in place.

16. Understand that it takes everyone to make a change

Any successful effort to end violence against women must involve everyone. This includes governments and leaders, and people who commit violence or tacitly condone it. We can’t end violence against women alone.