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Harnessing the Power of the 16 Days Campaign in 2018 and Beyond

Demand an ILO Convention to End Gender-Based Violence in the World of Work

16 Days in Context

When the Center for Women’s Global Leadership first launched the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence in 1991, along with the participants of its Global Institute, we had no idea that over 25 years later it would be the most widely recognized and longest-running campaign for women’s rights in the world. Its reach and power has been made possible by the thousands of grassroots activists and organizations that give it life as a truly global movement. We are honored to be in partnership in this work.

The 16 Days campaign was born during a formative moment for the international women’s movement. Since the 1970s, international women’s rights networks had been growing and expanding, facilitated in part by the UN World Conferences on Women. While today we take for granted that “women’s rights are human rights,” the reality is that it took feminists decades to secure the mere recognition that violations of women’s rights — and particularly violence against women — were not simply private acts outside the purview of the state, but constituted violations of human rights under international law.

The First Breakthrough

CWGL launched the first 16 Days Campaign in 1991 in collaboration with feminists from the Global North and the Global South who agreed on the pressing need to address violence against women as a key human rights issue. Their efforts began with a worldwide petition drive aimed at the United Nations World Conference on Human Rights that was held in Vienna in 1993, calling upon the Conference to comprehensively address women’s human rights and to recognize gender-based violence as a human rights issue. Prior to the widespread use of email or the Internet, the petition was circulated to 124 countries and translated into 23 languages. Thanks to the efforts of countless feminists around the world, violence against women was finally formally recognized as a human rights violation at Vienna, and one year later the UN appointed the first Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women.

16 Days Evaluated

As a campaign celebrating 27 years, we knew there were many best practices and insights to discover, among grassroots organizations leading the 16 Days campaign in communities around the world. In the fall of 2015, CWGL invested in an in-depth evaluation of the campaign where dozens of participating organizations shared their thoughts, experiences, critiques, and recommendations.

A common thread emerged from those conversations: all the years spent fighting to raise awareness about gender-based violence has not brought about lasting, fundamental change. It has not brought about the radical cultural shift we hoped it would, and it has not made gender-based violence a universally unacceptable act.

16 Days Re-Imagined

While the strength of the 16 Days campaign lies in its flexibility as a tool that anyone can adapt to their local context, it became clear to us that there was a strong desire for collective, global action. This feedback has led CWGL to articulate a new vision for the 16 Days campaign. While a historic accomplishment for the international women’s movement, we still find ourselves struggling against the same things, fighting the same fight, and continuing to demand dignity, autonomy, and justice. There has been a shift in consciousness — gender-based violence is now broadly recognized as an injustice against women — but no corresponding shift in action.

CWGL will continue to lead the coordination of the 16 Days campaign, as well as support and amplify the work of women all over the world, by evolving our focus in three ways:

1- Making the shift from Awareness to Accountability

Since its inception, the 16 Days Campaign has focused with great success on raising awareness on gender-based violence against women. This is an important part of the struggle, but alone it is not enough. Now is the time for action, the time to demand and ensure full accountability for violence, and for the failure of governments to live up to their commitments to the human rights of women, and to prevent any rollbacks.

2- 16 to 365

The 16 Days campaign evaluation underscored one thing: All of you who have built this movement want to be more involved, more often. We are committed to continuing to build on the success of the 16 Days campaign from November 25 to December 10 every year. We also firmly believe that the fight to end gender-based violence needs to continue with the same vigor throughout the year. We will hope to hear from you frequently, and you’ll hear more from us, over the coming months, including through our new platform launching November 21.

3- A Global Call to Action

The 16 Days campaign has always been bold, unapologetic, and clear about our demands. This year, we are introducing a call to action for all campaigns around the world to join. With a new orientation expanding the focus of the campaign from a short two-week burst of energy to a sustained engagement throughout the year, CWGL is harnessing the power of the 16 Days towards a targeted global advocacy goal over the next two years: ensuring that the International Labor Organization (ILO) adopts a legally binding convention to end gender-based violence in the world of work in June 2019. We will continue to work beyond June to ensure that governments ratify the convention, and that its implementation is thorough, comprehensive, and effective.

These efforts are meant to complement the local and national actions and campaigns that are held every year between November 25 and December 10 at a more global, systemic level, and to contribute to a global feminist solidarity around a shared goal.

Another Breakthrough: A Global Campaign for a convention on GBV in the World of Work

Feminists in the 1990s achieved a truly monumental breakthrough when they secured the formal recognition of women’s rights as human rights, and of violence against women as a human rights violation. This work continues, in new ways, as gender-based violence continues unabated. With an expanded and updated 16 Days campaign, we are gearing up for another breakthrough: adopting new, legally-binding international standards to eliminate gender-based violence in the world of work.

In 2015, the ILO — the only tripartite UN agency with government, employer, and worker representatives — decided to launch a standard-setting process on harassment and violence against  women and men in the world of work, followed by a Meeting of Experts on violence against women and men. 

In June 2018, the ILO began a series of discussions on a potential new ILO instrument on violence and harassment in the world of work at the International Labour Conference, in a committee composed of representatives from governments, employers, and worker unions. 

In June 2019, the ILO committee will meet again to decide on what form the instrument will take: a legally binding convention, a non-legally binding recommendation, or a convention supplemented by a recommendation. We believe that the ILO should adopt the strongest possible instrument — a legally-binding convention supplemented by a recommendation. We demand an explicit and clear focus on gender-based violence. The convention should also include specific guidance for governments, employers, and trade unions to identify and address the discriminatory behaviors and unequal power relations that lie at the root of gender-based violence. 

To date the largest global advocacy campaign for the adoption of a strong convention on gender-based violence in the world of work has been led by unions and labor organizations. The feminist movement has largely been absent from these advocacy efforts, which is a gap we aim to address. As feminists we will bolster and strengthen the global demand for a convention, including through ongoing local and grassroots participation through the 16 Days campaign, and by mobilizing to demand that governments support the ILO’s adoption of a convention supplemented by a recommendation in June 2019. Once it is officially adopted by the ILO, the momentum will be harnessed over the coming years towards demanding government ratification of the convention and implementation in accordance with women’s human rights.

16 Days: A New Digital Platform

In our 2016 assessment of the 16 Days campaign, we heard loud and clear: this community wanted a way to stay connected, and to share stories, press, and policy wins in your community.

On November 21, we will be re-launching the online presence of the 16 Days campaign through a new digital platform that will serve as an interactive hub,where organizations can share their campaigns, events, and resources. The new platform will act as an information clearinghouse for gender-based violence related news, reports, and analysis. 

What we launch in November will be a “beta” version to better understand what will be most useful, to support the active 16 Days campaign as well as provide year-round resources, especially critical as we shift to a global call to action.

This platform is grounded in the campaign’s global ask, and provides tools, content, and analysis geared towards feminist and women’s rights organizations to better understand the ILO process, the draft convention itself, its gaps and strengths, and suggestions for advocacy activities targeted at governments.

We also hope that the platform evolves in ways we can’t predict, based on how it can serve you! As it is possible, and in service to this community, we will evolve the content and features of the platform in the coming years. 

Stay up to date

Mark your calendar: new 16 Days website and toolkit will launch November 21!

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Center for Women's Global Leadership

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