It is no coincidence that the last day of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence promoted by the United Nations is Human Rights Day. Since the UN’s establishment in 1948 following the atrocities of World War II, it has been a given that we as human beings should be guaranteed human rights. However, far into the 21st century, it is very apparent that many problems affect disproportionately women and girls, such as freedom of movement, domestic and sexual violence, equal pay, lack of access to education, adequate healthcare, or shelter.
So why would the UN connect the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence and Human Rights Day?
Human rights are for everyone, but they seem more like guidelines than something that must be done, especially when it comes to women and gender-based violence.
The right of women to be safe is one of the first and foremost “ignored” human rights there are.
There are multiple countries where violence against women is not criminalized. For example, only 17 countries in the world consider marital rape a crime, and honor killings (*check definition below) still happen in the US, Europe, and many other countries in the world today. If human rights are supposed to be universal, why isn’t justice for women who are victims of violence a part of that?
The dissonance when comparing women’s rights to how universal and well-known human rights are is overwhelming because they are visibly putting women in a different category when their rights are being violated. Access to food and shelter is a human right when talking about war, but in cases of domestic abuse when the woman is not allowed to manage her budget or sleep safely at home it is not. Rape in a state of war is considered a crime worldwide, while if it happens during times of peace it varies based on where it happened. With examples like this, we could go on and on.
Therefore, by connecting the 16 Days of Activism and Human Rights Day, the UN is trying to give a clear message: women’s rights are human rights and this status-quo situation of women’s rights being pushed aside needs to change.
Women need to be able to have minimum guaranteed rights in order to live safely knowing that there is at least an international agreement on gender violence, its definition, and solid guidelines for countries to follow. This will establish common ground so that a woman’s rights, and ultimately her fate, will not be defined by her origin or socioeconomic status.
Rape culture and gender inequality are both elements that are deeply rooted in our societies and will take a much larger effort to eradicate than 16 days of activism by the UN. But it is a step. These 16 days have helped create awareness of how broad and deep the problem is, it has shown that gender violence does not always mean sexual or physical abuse, it can occur in the workplace, in politics, or in the household, and can also be psychological or economical. By raising awareness and verbalizing how deep and complex the problem is, we may be able to contribute to the solution considering that many women do not have time for a slow, patient change.
As said, securing and protecting women’s rights is a challenge that, going into the third decade of the 21st century, should be a given and a necessity. There is an urgent need to create this change and to bring all the international community to push towards making it happen.
Everyone can help raise awareness or brainstorm practical solutions.
We at SafeUP also believe that there must be no differentiation between genders when it comes to basic rights. Safety is one right that is constantly being violated and that many people care very little about, but it is also the one that we are actively taking care of. We care about every woman’s safety and, with the help of our communities, we help many women feel safer every single day.
There is a long way to go when we think about all the things that women want to accomplish, but as long as we stay together and fight step by step towards our goal, it will become a reality. Join our SafeUP community here and become part of this movement of change towards a world in which women’s rights are as obvious and clear as any other human right.
*Honor killings are the murder of a woman or girl by male family members. The killers justify their actions by claiming that the victim has brought dishonor upon the family name or prestige.