Orange the World in 16 Days: Stopping Violence Against Women and Girls

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Violence against women occurs in every society and every country; it is globally pervasive and deeply troubling. Most of the violence is “perpetrated by intimate partners,” and in the past 12 months, nearly 21% of women and girls between the ages of 15-49 have “experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner.” Yet, despite the prevalence of violence against women and girls around the world, the problem is often considered low priority for international development agendas, according to a senior U.N. official.

Each year, the U.N. promotes 16 days of activism to raise awareness and funds for the purpose of ending violence against women and girls. This year’s effort — Orange the World in 16 Days — begins November 25 and ends December 10, on Human Rights Day.  Orange the World is an initiative of the UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign (which originally began in 2008) and advocates strongly the need for sustainable financing in the fight to end violence against women. It highlights the importance of coming together to support one another in building inclusive communities for all.

The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, which SocialConnectedness.org has previously featured, includes a specific – and hopeful – target for addressing violence against women. Sustainable Development Goal 5 focuses on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls, and within this framework, Goal 5.2 explicitly aims to “eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.” In order for the goal to be successful, it requires a commitment of sustainable funds. The 2016 Orange the World initiative drives this idea and “presents the opportunity for resource mobilization for the issue.”

At the Orange the World kick-off event in New York City on November 21 this year, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered an important message to the crowd, emphasizing the hard questions that we, as a society, must ask ourselves, saying:

“The statistics almost defy belief. What is even harder to understand is why: why men prey on women and girls; why societies shame the victims, why governments fail to punish deadly crimes, why the world denies itself the fruits of women’s full participation.”

These questions are incredibly relevant for Canada, as the nation comes to terms with its hugely upsetting record of violence against Indigenous women. As Kim Samuel recounted to over 450 students in her 2015 McGill University McDonald-Currie lecture, “an Indigenous woman is three times more likely than a non-Indigenous woman to be assaulted, or to go missing or be murdered.”

In order to curb this violence, the message must be disseminated and agreed by everyone, regardless of gender or community. Across the country, a number of men have taken a stand against the violence toward Indigenous women.  The Moose Hide Campaign, a grassroots movement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Men, has created an advocacy network to stand up against violence towards women and children. They encourage men and boys to participate in healing and sharing circles and to wear a small square of moosehide on their lapel showing their personal commitment to honour, respect, and protect the women and children in their lives and to be advocates for ending violence.  There are also impressive individual efforts such as Gwich’in First Nation marathon runner Brad Firth — or “Caribou Legs” – running 75 kilometres daily, between Vancouver on May 8 and finishing in St. John’s, Newfoundland on November 20. Firth ran a total of 7,400 km across Canada to raise awareness about the country’s missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW). The cause is especially important to Firth, as his own sister, Irene, was killed by her partner last year – and he only learned of it while on a run.

Just this past week, two Indigenous male basketball players at St. Thomas University each took a knee during the Canadian National Anthem. While holding up a red shawl (in honour of the red dress project), the two athletes decided to use the controversial anthem-kneeling movement to raise further awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women. A number of their peers thanked and commended them for their efforts to raise the profile of this heart-breaking reality.

As the Canadian government continues its MMIW inquiry (a CBC website lists the images and descriptions of all 287 women involved), Sharon Acoose, an Indigenous professor of Social Work, asks “why wasn’t there a national public inquiry 20 years ago?” A case of better late than never is still a tough pill to swallow for communities affected by cases of extreme violence and disappearance. As we move into UNiTE’s ninth year, it is important to recognize that awareness for violence against women and girls is still slow-moving. The process of building inclusive, equitable communities requires continued recognition on both a national and international scale, as well as regular, sustainable funding, in order to truly make a difference in the lives of the affected.

If you are interested in promoting the UNiTE campaign and taking part in the Orange the World initiative this year to help foster social connectedness and inclusion, then join the social movement! You can share your photos, messages and videos at facebook.com/SayNO.UNiTE and twitter.com/SayNO_UNiTE using #orangetheworld and #16days. Visit unwomen.org to learn more.