March 8 was International Women’s Day, an opportunity to celebrate every effort made to eliminate violence against women and support women’s empowerment.
Violence against women is still a reality, as are the challenges they face to ensure, on equal terms, their rights and opportunities for growth and development.
Sadly, in 2017, one in three women still experience physical or sexual violence, most often by an intimate partner.[i] We are clearly not living in an equal world yet. In some countries women still do not have the same rights or opportunities to participate and contribute to society.
That is why it is important to highlight how individuals, groups and communities, in this case linked with RET’s work, are showing their commitment to women’s empowerment. We need to develop a conversation about violence against women. A few days ago was the International Women’s Day, and it is a good time to do so by talking about these local commitments, which together make a global difference.
More than 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women
As 2016 was drawing to an end, the world celebrated the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (25 November to 10 December). Along with many of our partners, RET participated in this global campaign, as we are growing ever more concerned by the plight of young women in fragile environments. Gender-based violence is present all around the world, but is not acceptable anywhere!
After the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign and all the messages of support, we clearly saw that the core of such a campaign happens in the field. Our teams and the young people and women we work with were the ones to really carry the campaign through numerous additional trainings, events or artistic performances.
Having a look at the activities our teams and beneficiaries implemented can help us understand the real purpose of such global campaigns and the concrete commitments they are designed to fuel.
TURKEY – Art as a Way to Create Understanding
In Turkey, the motivation was very high. As a response to the 16 Days Campaign, RET’s centre in Viran?ehir organised a Gender-Based Violence (GBV) training for male participants. Gender-based violence prevention will never work if half the world’s population do not consider that the subject is relevant to them, if they do not consider themselves affected or responsible.
This is part of RET’s holistic approach, which considers that engaging men is essential to solving the problem. Encouraging them to face their own situation, fears and challenges, opens the door to giving an equal treatment and respect to women. Men’s groups are part of the continuous work that our professionals develop in various countries and regions.
In Mardin and ?anl?urfa, our team decided to organise the premiere screening of Gülten Taranç’s award-winning film “Wish to Wash with Rain”.[ii] The film is a deep reflection on violence through the eyes of a woman; for participants of the centres it represented a great opportunity to discuss the issue of GBV. After the screening, our programme participants engaged in a lengthy Q&A session with Gülten and the main actors to dig deeper into the messages of the film.
Some RET Centres, such as the one in K?z?ltepe, chose to organise trainings on social cohesion and GBV. Others focused on artistic performances such as the Süleymaniye Centres, which celebrated with dances and a women’s choir.
In total, 11 events were organised throughout Southeastern Turkey.
When art forms such as movies, music and theatre are used as a way to exchange experiences and considerations about violence, it is possible to produce deeper connections and understanding through the use of metaphors. Art allows individuals to express ideas and experiences in a way words sometimes fail to do. As such, it is a fantastic tool, which our team in Turkey knows how to use effectively.
LEBANON – Awareness on the Streets
Women and youth in Jezzine, Lebanon decided to raise the awareness of their community directly in the streets.
These kinds of activities have a double effect. They are not only about the citizens in the streets or the awareness-raising of institutions or authorities. Marches represent opportunities for the women and youth involved to have their voices heard and to feel empowered to make changes in their own lives.
The youth in our project also wrote, directed and acted in a short film on GBV and created short theatre sketches to express the concern of the younger generation and their will to make GBV part of the past. Theatre is a powerful tool that moves ideas and feelings in a very strong way.
During the 16 Days Campaign, we were also very honoured to have the visit of Mr Philippe Lazzarini, UN Humanitarian Coordinator and Deputy Special Coordinator in Lebanon to our centre in Jezzine and have him engage with the youth and women we have worked with for the past year.
Latin America and the Caribbean: From Theatre to Advocacy
In Latin America, our teams worked with the women and youth of our programmes on the theme of GBV through a “Theatre for Integration” activity, which was part of the International Community Festival. This workshop addressed all forms of violence, by inviting participants to act the stories of confrontation they shared and redirect the actions to look for opportunities of forgiveness and integration. In this activity, all the stories highlighted the role of women in challenging situations like forced displacement, family relationships and health risks.
During the same period (December 3rd and 4th) the National Meeting of Young Women took place in Costa Rica with the stated objective of creating a political agenda to empower young women in the country. RET was in the Organising Committee along with the Vice-Ministry of Youth, Vice-Ministry of Citizen Dialogue, the President’s Social Council, the National Institute of Women, UNFPA, UNESCO and the Council for Young People. All the women who participated had the opportunity to give their perspective and collaborated to generate lines of action and advocacy messages for the rights of women and gender equality.
In the State of Táchira, Venezuela, RET and UNHCR with other local humanitarian organisations created a campaign called “la Messi Venezolana” (in reference to Deyna Castellanos the star football player from Venezuela). The campaign was made of two series of workshops for high schools focusing on GBV prevention and other gender identity issues directed to adolescents and youth.
Campaigns such as the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence are catalysts designed to encourage key issues to be taken up by relevant actors. They focus the attention of NGOs and communities and provide an incentive to act on certain themes. The concrete results are those described above. Women and youth who march or express themselves through art, artists who share their messages, men who feel included and trainings which transform awareness into positive behaviours.
This is not only part of one campaign, but also a daily effort developed by RET’s team and participants (specially youth and women), to change their life and raise awareness in society.
RET was therefore delighted to support the campaign, but we do have a reservation: sixteen days are clearly not enough. We will therefore continue to focus on this issue, in our programmes of course, but also in our communications. Our next article will therefore cover the often-untold story of young women soldiers in the illegal armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Gender-based violence is present all around the world, but is not acceptable anywhere!
(Also read: The Girls behind the Guns)