Islamic Relief’s head of global advocacy, Shahin Ashraf, says more must be done to secure gender justice around the world, as 16 Days of Activism come to an end.
This week we concluded our global 16 Days of Activism campaign against gender-based violence (GBV), which Islamic Relief has run for three years in a row. It has come to symbolise our organisation’s growing commitment to ensuring gender justice is the centre of our work.
The campaign, run every year by non-governmental organisations, activists and UN agencies, begins on 25 November, the International Day for the Eradication of Violence against Women, and ends on Human Rights Day, 10 December.
For 16 days, activists and organisations around the world took to social media platforms to raise awareness about gender-based violence. Many of our offices across the world participated in the campaign and ran activities like workshops and training for members of the community as well as survivors.
This year’s campaign shed light on the different forms of violence inflicted on the women we support, from our Nepal office highlighting human trafficking to a women’s rights march in Bangladesh.
Each of the 16 days has a theme that sheds light on some of the harmful practices that affect women, like female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and early and forced marriage but also issues like climate change which disproportionately impact women and girls.
We believe that by bringing such abuses and issues to light, we can promote global action against injustice and help tackle these problems in the communities we work with.
Working with faith leaders
Islamic Relief is committed to lifting people out of poverty and we understand that the power to do so often lies within local communities. Faith can be a powerful weapon against injustice, and so our 16 Days of Activism campaign includes providing sermons for faith leaders to address the issue of GBV with their congregations.
To raise awareness and correct religious misconceptions that are causing harm, we work closely with faith leaders to first inform them about women’s rights as outlined in the Qur’an and then to ensure that they preach this message to their communities.
Faith leaders are morally responsible for educating their respective communities about women’s rights in Islam; their right to choose a spouse, to get an education and to secure equality in all aspects of their lives.
The importance of education
Challenging violence can only go so far unless we also fight to ensure that women and girls have an equal right and access to education, which gives them the security of escaping out of poverty and becoming full citizens that participate in all aspects of society. Investing in girls early yields lifelong results not just for them but for their children – and this must be a global priority for all.
Women and girls are often deprived of a right to learn, and the consequences of centuries of marginalisation are everywhere. Today, women make up more than two-thirds of the world’s 796 million illiterate people and according to global statistics, just 39% of rural girls are currently attending secondary school.
Working with men and boys
Ending GBV is not an injustice that governments, aid organisations and community leaders can eradicate without the support of men and boys. Boys must learn from an early age, at homes and in schools, that females are their equal partners in life.
The sad reality is that almost a third of all women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime; however, most of these abuses are not reported due to shame and impunity. This is an epidemic and serious human right violation that must be addressed and tackled at many levels.
By taking part in 16 Days of Activism, we are recognising that we must do more to break the silence on abuse and encourage women to speak out, share their stories and seek help. By uniting our voices – women and girls, men and boys – during these 16 days, we ensure that tackling GBV becomes a priority in communities around the world, the whole year round.