16 Days of Activism, running annually from 25 November to 10 December, comes at the end of a year that saw a global pandemic affect families, economies, and every aspect of society worldwide. All around the globe, women stepped up when governments and businesses failed to act. After a tough year, this 16 Days global civil society alliance CIVICUS is celebrating the inspiring stories of women: activists involved in protest, women human rights defenders behind bars, and women’s organisations across the globe working to mitigate rising levels of gender based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As 2020 unfolded and the COVID-19 global pandemic gripped the world, it soon became clear that women’s rights, safety, and equality were under threat. Weeks into the pandemic, governments around the world imposed lockdowns; trapped indoors, women faced greater risk of gender based violence, while authoritarian governments used COVID-19 as a smokescreen to push back against gender equality and reproductive rights.
Women’s organisations fight back
Despite these setbacks, women continued to advocate for gender rights and social justice. The seminal Women’s Global Strike took place on 8 March 2020, highlighting the power of collective action. Also, in response to rising violence against women under lockdown, women’s rights organsations across the globe are redirecting resources and creating innovative ways to connect with, and protect, women at risk.
A recent report by CIVICUS, ‘Solidarity in the time of COVID-19’, shows how women's organisations are stepping in when governments and businesses fail to act. In Mexico, for example, the National Network of Shelters is engaging rideshare companies to conduct rescue operations; while Lebanon’s Resource Centre for Gender Equality is trying to reach more women at risk from domestic violence by enrolling people to disseminate the number through their windows and balconies.
Women protesters & activists
This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, one of the most progressive blueprints for advancing women’s rights. The Beijing Protocol urges, among other demands, that states recognise the importance of women’s rights movements, an issue central to CIVICUS’s work.
These past two years have been characterised by protests across the globe led by women activists, in countries such as Poland, Lebanon, Tunisia, Belarus, Nigeria, Hungary, Namibia, Colombia, Sudan and India.
Protesters such as Yemi Adamolekun, founder of Enough is Enough Nigeria, a campaigner for better governance, and Klementyna Suchanow, co-founder of the Polish Women’s Strike (#StrajkKobiet). Women like these have been pivotal in pushing back against austerity, promoting democracy and advocating for fundamental human rights.
Women human rights defenders
However, taking a stand against human rights abuses has led to the arrest and detention of many women human rights defenders. CIVICUS’s campaign #StandAsMyWitness calls on governments to release human rights defenders behind bars. Many of the faces in #StandAsMyWitness are women who have been unjustly incarcerated, including Saudi activist Loujain Al-Hathloul, arrested for defying the Saudi ban on women drivers.
Al-Hathloul, who has been in prison for over two years, has suffered threats and sexual harassment. In October 2020 she started a hunger strike to protest the lack of contact with her family; a UN women’s rights committee says it is "gravely concerned about Ms Hathloul's physical and mental health and well-being.”
Another woman featured in #StandAsMyWitness is Teresita Naul, a long-time human rights defender from the Philippines. On November 23, Teresita will spend her 250th day in prison. Age 63, she suffers from asthma and bronchitis and her health has deteriorated while in the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions of Agusan del Sur Provincial Jail.
As the risks, threats and challenges to women across the world increase during the pandemic, CIVICUS is calling on people worldwide to use 16 Days of Activism to amplify the voices of women and girls. We urge you to share the stories of inspirational women activists, leaders and human rights defenders across the globe who are advancing women’s rights in this challenging time.
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CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. CIVICUS has more than 10,000 members worldwide.