Let women and girls lead: 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence

7 December 2022

16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence is an annual international campaign, which activists observe to amplify their calls for change.

ActionAid UK met decision makers at a Parliamentary event this November to show decision-makers how women and girls are leading the way to end violence in their communities. 

Dr Kendi Guantai, ActionAid UK’s Chair of Trustees at the Parliamentary event in November.

Dr Kendi Guantai, ActionAid UK’s Chair of Trustees at the Parliamentary event in November. Photo: ActionAid

"Violence against women and girls remains one of the world’s most persistent and widespread human rights abuses.”

This is what Dr Kendi Guantai,  ActionAid UK’s Chair of Trustees told guests at the Parliamentary event on November 30, 2022. 

She further added, “Violence has an impact on every aspect of women’s and girls’ lives - our physical and mental health, our education, our ability to work and ultimately, to experience our full human rights."  

Like in all emergencies – the rates of violence against women and girls have risen dramatically during the Covid pandemic. As a result, the United Nations Population Fund estimate that there have been an additional 31 million cases of domestic violence globally.

School closures due to Covid-19 increased risks of violence against girls, adolescent pregnancy and harmful practices, including child, early and forced marriages or unions.  These findings are substantiated in ActionAid's girl-led research, with girls in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Indonesia reporting similar concerns.  

ActionAid took the opportunity during this year's 16 Days of Activism to highlight how violence against women and girls is a fundamental human rights violation, affecting around one in three women and girls around the world. We wanted to shed light on how women work with communities to prevent and respond to violence and create sustainable, long-term change.We were also joined by Poet Rakaya Esime Fetuga, who performed one of her pieces at the event, and by ActionAid UK’s Co-Director of Policy, Advocacy and Practice, Hannah Bond.

Frontline responders  

In the midst of the Covid pandemic, as services became scarce, women’s rights organisations stepped in to set up helplines and offered services such as legal support and safe spaces. They also made sure their governments knew of the changing needs of women and girls and that it was their responsibility to meet them.

Despite this, women's and girls’ leadership in crises remains unrecognised, undervalued and chronically underfunded. In decision-making spaces, women are still woefully under-represented.   

Rakaya Esime Fetuga reads her poem Voice Could at the Parliament.

Rakaya Esime Fetuga reads her poem Voice Could at the Parliament. Photo: ActionAid

Girls leading the way  

For some time, ActionAid has highlighted the importance of women’s leadership in response to global challenges like ending violence against women and girls.  

At the Parliamentary event, Hannah Bond shared ActionAid's Building Power Together - ActionAid’s girl-led research, which looked at girls’ experiences in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Ethiopia during the pandemic.

Hannah explained how, as a result of Covid-19, girls in Bangladesh felt insecure moving around their communities and at greater risk of harassment in community spaces, where they previously felt safe. There was also an increase in violence within the home, with girls reporting that they were witnessing and/ or hearing of more incidents of violence in the community.  

Despite these increased threats, girls who took part in the project as researchers reported that afterwards, they had more belief that girls have the power to make positive change in their communities. As Hannah explained, “the research brought to light girls’ voices and agency, showing the power girls have when they organise together."  

Agents of change  

Speeches at the Parliamentary event closed with a performance by London-based poet Rakaya Esime Fetuga called Voice Could, reminding us of the power of women’s voices in the face of violence and the agency of women and girls to affect change.

An excerpt read as follows:

Let your words out.

The fireball that burns you is amazingly bright,

your voice

can draw you out of your permanent night

it’s okay to be scared

there is power in fright

when it leads to the courage that lets your voice lift in flight."

What happens after 16 Days of Activism?

Ending gender-based violence is central to ActionAid’s work.

We know that there will be no climate justice, no economic justice and no broader gender justice – until all women and girls are free from violence.  

During this year’s 16 Days of Activism, ActionAid UK is calling on the UK Government to put women and girls’ leadership at the heart of everything they do. This means listening to and resourcing feminist, women and girl-led groups who understand their contexts, provide life-saving services and hold their governments to account for ending gender-based violence.

It means meaningfully partnering with them and valuing their expertise, priorities and goals. It means long-term, flexible funding for women's and girls' rights organisations for their own - not donor - priorities.  

Read Building Power Together to find out more about ActionAid’s innovative girl-led research project.