16 Days of Activisim - let's get to the point of gender violence campaigns
Christine Davis, Director of Media 4 Change
And so, the 16 Days of Activism begins again, and I find myself, as a gender and human rights activist, finding less optimism to celebrate it with in each passing year.
On the dawn of the 16 Days for No Violence Against Women and Children Campaign, I was shyly presented with a well-worn scrap of paper marked by the careful hand of a child. An 8-year-old boy had in a moment of jealous anger, sent a young girl a letter that detailed his great hatred of her. His argument was well thought out: she was stupid and ugly and that was enough.
I am still at a loss as to how to deal with this and, ironically enough, because of my history as a gender activist, I was surprised that a boy would choose this form of attack. We have long gotten used to stories of boy-on-girl violence in schools. The regularity of stories about violence, rape and abuse in schools is leading to a helpless malaise about the seriousness of these issues. The less shocked I feel, the more normal it becomes, the more I expect it to be happening. I had not, however, expected the more subtle degradation of a girl's spirit through a carefully written note, passed hand over hand during class until it reached its destination. Even more surprising to me, the girl who received the letter has dismissed it with an ease that truly disturbs me. Has she gotten so used to this herself, that she now finds it unimportant or humorous?
For me, the message of the 16 Days Campaign has always been clear. Men, do not have a right or entitlement to women's bodies, but should we now include the entitlement they may feel over a woman's mind and emotional self? Where do we draw a line between the meanness of girls and the meanness of boys and say, "this is a gender discrimination problem". In creating the 16 Days of Activism Campaign, have we made it impossible to really address human rights at a holistic level? Boys and girls abuse each other and one another... do we continue to isolate and categorise that as a gender dysfunction and unintentionally overlook the opportunity to have children fully understand their rights and responsibilities as humans? My greatest desire for my children is not that they are the best boys and girls, men and women, but that they become the best person. That they exist in a world that no longer understands them through their physical bodies.
Gender activism is necessary, I do not doubt that... for as much as I want the world to stop thinking along gender lines, there is a history that cannot be overcome by just wanting the change. 16 Days of Activism has, in its success as a movement, ensured that most activist organisations think in terms of this history and attempt to redress it in their own ways.
The African Alliance of YMCA's initiatives are of interest here. Their adoption of a new gendered thinking is laudable. In the past few years they have placed a priority on gender mainstreaming, held gender-sensitisation training for staff and beneficiaries, encouraged and supported female leadership within the organisation and have specifically created programms that improve the lives of women throughout Africa. Their new initiative, the Transformative Masculinity Programme is designed with a full understanding of the gender dynamics of violence.
As Gil Harper, Executive Secretary, explains it, “Youth masculinity, especially in Africa, is increasingly defined by brutality, most commonly violent crime and gender based violence. By the time young boys become adults, this distorted masculinity becomes part of the 'male culture' – one that is based on violence, multiple partners and power struggle. This programme aims to change youth 'maleness' so that it will not be used for dominance or be defined by who or what it dominates. It will be a transformative force in society – one that sees young men working in partnership with young women to radically change gender relations."
I find hope when I read these words. That an organisation that used to be the sole domain of men, the sole pride of maleness, has worked so determinedly to address the ways in which men hurt and control women is a remarkable indication of the direction of thinking that the 16 Days Campaign encourages.
But, I am still left with a sense of disquiet. For all the new awareness, politically correct thinking and gender sensitivity training, people will hurt and be hurt. Maybe we lack a core understanding of what it means to be human, or the desire to care enough to see through our own fears and weaknesses before we act against others.
For all our hope, our activism and determination for change, I can't shake the memory that a boy still sent a mean letter to a girl. One child is still unnecessarily cruel to another. In this memory, I am forced to see passed my education and understanding of history and I am left with a nagging concern... Have we missed the point?
Development / Accra / Ghana / Africa / Modernghana.com