November 21st was a day almost like any other in Quito, Ecuador. Tourists cruised through La Plaza de la Independencia, snacking on sugar-coated peanuts and bocadillos, listening as a tour guide described the monument to the heroes of independence. But something else was taking place at the Presidential Palace in the plaza that day.
Ecuador President Rafael Correa, the country’s Minister of Justice, and a bevy of other high-level politicians, lawyers, and activists, were standing proudly on the palatial balcony. Below, palace guards were marching in sync to the sounds of their national anthem. As tourists took in sights and breakfast, Quito was starting 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.
For tourists, the event was overlooked. Fellow travelers said they went to the Presidential Palace that morning to see the president with no knowledge of the event whatsoever. And it’s no surprise. In many corners of the world, the humanitarian crisis of gender-based violence is often overlooked, ignored, and in some cases, condoned.
The 16 Days Campaign, which runs from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25th to Human Rights Day on December 10th, aims to change this. During these 16 days, the United Nations and other affiliated organizations seek to topple the blindness that allows gender-based violence to persist.
And it is endemic. According to the UN, one in three women globally experience some form of violence in their lifetime, be it physical, sexual, or psychological. UN Women Chief of Communications and Advocacy, Nanette Braun, calls gender-based violence “one of the most prevalent forms of human rights violations today.”
While gender-based violence may look different in different countries, from genital mutilation to child marriage, or rape culture and domestic violence, Braun stresses that “violence against women knows no borders, race, or class systems.”
UN Women holds that the disparity in equality between the sexes is based in deep-rooted discrimination against women. At its source is an institutionalized imbalance of power, a lack of respect, and a perpetuated idea that men and women’s capabilities are somehow unequal and that men and women cannot and should not occupy the same world. Violence against women seeks to sustain these divisions through terror, intimidation, and displays of force.
Addressing the Issue
In 2015, the United Nations composed 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to address human rights issues around the world by 2030. These goals include ending poverty and hunger, creating affordable and clean energy, providing quality education, among others. Although gender equality gets its own slot in the SDG slate, UN Women stresses that gender equality has its place within every SDG.
“At a very top level, women are half the population and hold half of the country’s potential. If you want to achieve global goals for your society and country, you need the support of the entire population. If, for example, you’re playing soccer, you would never play with half the team,” says Braun.
Violence against women not only incurs an immeasurable amount of pain and suffering for victims and their families, it also devastates the global economy. A recent study found that violence against women was committed at the cost of 5.2% of the global economy. Keep in mind this statistic only takes into account violence perpetrated by intimate partners. The cost to the global economy from violence committed against women from non-intimate partners is not known.
Violence against women incurs medical and judicial costs, as well as costs on household and national budgets due to loss of income and productivity. Statistics cited in the story count the costs: Viet Nam lost an estimated 1.4% of its GDP to domestic violence in 2010 and the United Kingdom lost 16 billion GBP in economic output, human, emotional and service-related costs to domestic violence that same year.
While the economic losses caused by gender-based violence is worthy of note, it is not the most formidable or pressing aspect. The fact that there is violence against women is enough. The fact that half the world’s population has experienced, or lives in fear of violence is enough.
“It is absolutely not sufficient to argue for the end of gender-based violence only on the basis of economic costs for society, which are substantial. This is first and foremost a human rights issue. If it were only one women in one country experiencing violence, that would be one too many,” says Braun.
During the 16 days of activism, cities around the world turn orange. The color is meant to symbolize a bright and optimistic future in which there is no violence against women. In Quito, The Presidential Palace, the Quito Airport, El Chiche Bridge, and more were lit up in orange, and United Nations employees and activists wore this optimistic color in solidarity.
One the first day of the 16 Days of Activism, November 25th, orange-attired UN workers dispersed to the first event of the day: unveiling a new plaque in the National Assembly building, dedicated to the victims of femicide. Femicide is the most extreme form of violence against women – the killing of women because they are women. The Minister of Justice, Ledy Zuñiga Rocha, the Director of UN Women for the Americas and the Caribbean, Moni Pizani, and other leading members of the Ecuadorian government and activists spoke out against the violence experienced by women, not only in Ecuador, but worldwide, and called for an end to this human rights issue.
One man from the crowd held a HeForShe sign throughout the course of the assembly. His presence at the ceremony was a poignant one. Just as the end of poverty or hunger requires the assistance of the entire population, so does the elimination of violence against women.
“It’s important that boys receive education about respecting women in school and in the family,” he said of the issue.
Ninety-three countries around the world are doing their part to end gender-based violence. In the US, UN Women uses a three Ps strategy: prevention, protection and provisional services.
Prevention attempts to change the root causes that produce a society capable of committing violence against women. An important aspect of prevention is teaching young girls to value themselves, see themselves as equal to their male peers, and understand their rights as women.
But addressing those in danger of violence is only half the preventative solution, since it only covers half the population. It’s imperative that the other half – those in danger of becoming perpetrators – work to prevent violence as well. UN Women and other organizations such as HeForShe, ask our male allies to challenge traditional gender norms, to engage more in the family and in the household, and to not only accept, but to embrace gender equality.
Calling on men and women to prevent violence is essential, but it does not yet encompass the whole picture. Violence against women exists in part because the governing body of a state allows it to happen through willful ignorance and lenient punishments against perpetrators. This idea is known as feminicide (not to be confused with femicide) – holding accountable the government and societal structures for continued gender-based violence. Thus the second “P” is protection under the law.
When prevention and protection fail, women who have experienced violence turn to the third “P”: provisional services. Providing emotional support or a safe environment for victims to live without fear are two examples. However, one of the most indispensable aspects of provisional services is delivering skills training and job opportunities.
One of the main reasons women stay in abusive relationships is because they are financially dependent on their spouses, many times because the society in which they live undervalues education for women or disallows women in the workplace. Providing an avenue for women to live independently is akin to handing them a key to a violence-free existence.
A Walk to End the Violence
On the afternoon of November 26th, activists filled the streets of downtown Quito, demonstrating for the right of women to live free of violence. Impassioned family members of women who have lost their lives at the hands of femicide shouted chants and carried banners with the images of their lost daughters.
Family members of Angie Carrillo Labanda carried a memorial sign as they marched. Nineteen-year-old Angie was killed in 2014 by her boyfriend, who strangled her and fractured her skull with a stone because she ended their relationship.
Karina del Pozo, a 20-year-old Ecuadorian model, was raped and murdered in 2013 by three male friends because she refused to have sexual relations with one of them.
Demonstrations such as this underscore the fact that this isn’t a foreign issue for anyone in any country. This is happening in our own backyards and the solution is one that we all must be a part of.
As a solo female traveler, this is a daily reality for me. When traveling in India, I have to make sure I’m properly covered up so I don’t invite violence. When hiring a guide in a pickup truck at Cotopaxi in Ecuador, I size him up, wondering if my months of strenuous pushups are enough to save me if worse came to worst. The idea that a woman on her own is automatically prey to violence is seeded in everyone’s mind, whether we realize it or not. It’s apparent in the concerned looks and the inevitable question, “is it safe?” when I tell someone I’m traveling solo. We can’t even imagine a world where women are free to live without the potential for meeting violence.
But activists during the 16 Days are trying to imagine that world. On the evening of November 26th, marchers carried banners with the theme of the anti-femicide movement: “Vivas nos queremos,” which roughly translates to “alive we want to be.” And what is a simpler statement of the anti-violence movement than that? We only want to live.
Ariana is a writer and world traveler. Her writing covers her three main passions: women’s empowerment, travel, and culture. The beauty of the world is not just in scenic mountain views or turquoise waters; it’s in doing the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning. For Ariana, that thing is stringing words together.