RASASC’s 16 Days of Feminist Action
Sunday, 25th November, is the annual International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The day marks the start of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, a global campaign that runs until 10th December – Human Rights Day.
This year is the 37th International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the 19th to be officially recognised by the United Nations. On 25th November 1981, Latin American and Caribbean women marked the date to honour María Teresa, Minerva and Patria Mirabal, sisters from the Dominican Republic, who were assassinated in 1960 for their political activism against the brutal dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo.
To commemorate 16 Days, and the enduring power of women’s resistance, we have brought together 16 incredible symbols of feminist activism that can help us to remember we are not alone in our push for change. The action and legacy of our sisters before us can help us to endure, to fight, and to hope.
Here is RASASC’s 16 Days of Activism:
1. 1918-1928: Some women given the right to vote in women’s Suffrage movement
The Suffrage movement was a broad, nationwide campaign that began in the late 1800s to get some women the vote. After decades of talks and frustrated with the lack of action, Emmeline Pankhurst formed the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903. Their actions included protests, hunger strikes and physical and political disruption in order to bring an end to the institutional exclusion of women from UK politics. In 1918 the first change to the law was passed allowing some women over the aged of 30 who met minimum property qualifications to vote. A decade later, in 1928, the voting age for women was changed to the same as men – 21.
The Suffrage movement has been criticised for failing to include all women in their aims, including women of colour and working-class women.
2. 1975: Icelandic Women’s Strike
In October 1975, the UN’s International Women’s Year, Icelandic women decided to mark the occasion with a nationwide ‘Day Off’. The strike drew attention to the stark statistic that Icelandic women earned less than 60% of what men in the country earned. It also highlighted the disproportionate amount of unpaid labour done by women both in the workplace and at home. 90% of women in Iceland participated. A year later, in 1976, Iceland passed an equal pay law.
3. 1990-2018: Women to drive moment in Saudi Arabia
In 1957, Saudi Arabia’s capital city, Riyadh, announced a ban on women driving. Since 1990 women have been publicly protesting, despite facing time in prison and losing their jobs as a result. Following the Arab Spring, women in Saudi Arabia increased the pressure on the Saudi royal family to overturn the ban. In 2014 a Saudi woman filmed herself attempting to drive across the border with the UAE. She was detained for 73 days.
61 years after its initial enforcement, King Salman lifted the ban with the condition that campaigners were not to talk to the media. Women remain imprisoned in Saudi Arabia as a result of ongoing opposition to gender equality.
4. 1989-1992: Kiranjit Ahluwalia and Southall Black Sisters
In 1989, Kiranjit Ahluwalia killed her husband after surviving a decade of domestic abuse. She was charged with his murder and sentenced to life in prison. Southall Black Sisters campaigned tirelessly for grounds to appeal on the basis of new evidence, alongside the criminal justice system’s lack of understanding of domestic violence and its impacts. In 1991, Kiranjit was given leave to appeal and a new trial was ordered.
Kiranjit subsequently pled guilty to manslaughter on the basis of diminished responsibility and was sentenced to 3 years, 4 months. Kiranjit had served this time and walked out of court that day. The campaign was a watershed moment in raising awareness around the inequality and bias inherent in our criminal justice system, and how survivors are treated.
5. 1992-present: Women’s Memorial March for missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada
In 1992, Cheryl Ann Joe, an indigenous woman from the Coast Salish Nation, was murdered by a white man in Vancouver. First Nations women organised a march to protest the scale of violence against indigenous women in Canada. In 2015, the UN released a report that stated indigenous women are five times more likely to die violently than non-indigenous women. These marches now take place across Canada every February 14th to commemorate the enormous number of indigenous women who go missing or are murdered every year.
6. 2003: Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace
In 2003, Liberia was in the midst of a second civil war. Over 200,000 people had been killed and over a third of the country was displaced with limited access to food and water. Sexual violence was used as a weapon of war in the conflict and many women were abducted, forced into labour or killed. In response, Leymah Gbowee led a peace movement that brought together Muslim and Christian women under the name Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace. They staged protests, strikes and occupations and were finally granted a hearing with Liberian president Charles Taylor in April 2003. Afterwards, Taylor stated he would attend peace talks.
Over 3,000 women, led by Gbowee, were instrumental in the end of the 14-year civil war and helped to elect Africa’s first female head of state in 2006. Gbowee won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.
7. 2006: Gulabi Gang founded in response to lack of police support for DV survivors in India
The Gulabi Gang, or the “pink gang”, formed in 2006 in Uttar Pradesh, northern India. The group have just under half a million members, most of whom are oppressed by India’s caste system, and the group began as a response to police indifference to gender-based violence. They fight for the rights and empowerment of all women and the end to domestic violence, child marriage and dowries.
8. 2007: First Million Women Rise march in London
For the past 11 years on a Saturday in March, thousands of women and girls from across the UK have taken to the streets of London to protest the global pandemic of male violence against women and girls. Created and organised by women of colour, Million Women Rise creates a space for women to publicly and visibly stand together in our demands for equality, respect and freedom.
9. 2012-present: Rojava Revolution
In 2012, after the collapse of the Assad regime in Syria, Kurdish groups gained control of Kurdish-majority cities and regions. Opposed by Turkey and in conflict with other Kurdish groups, Rojava, located in Western Kurdistan is an autonomous region that has an explicitly feminist foundation. There, women’s rights are foregrounded, child marriage is banned and women are encouraged to take an active part in society. Rojava is so revolutionary because of its commitment to dismantling traditionally patriarchal, hierarchical power structures, with the aim of creating a more equal and peaceful society.
10. 2015: Ni Una Menos & ¡Ni Una Mas!
The #NiUnaMenos – “not one less” movement – began in Argentina and swept across Latin America as a response to terrifyingly high levels of gender-based violence after the murder of 14-year-old Chiara Paez. The movement protests against sexual violence and rigid gender roles, as well as advocating for abortion rights, sex workers’ rights and LGBT+ rights. In 2016, after the rape and murder of 16-year-old Lucía Pérez, Ni Una Menos organised a mass strike that inspired protests across Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, El Salvador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Spain.
¡Ni Una Mas! is an activist movement focused on the growing number of women who have gone missing or been murdered in Ciudad Juárez since the 1990s. The inherent violence of the Mexico-US border and political climate of Juárez has meant the disappearances and murders have gone largely uninvestigated and unsolved. Families, activists and human rights groups have turned to grassroots protest to try and draw international attention to the ongoing injustice in Juárez.
As #MeToo and #TimesUp swept across the globe in late-2017 and early-2018, our last five days of activism take us swiftly into the present-day. These examples highlight our current climate as we near the end of 2018, the inspirational work that has been done, and how that can help us as we continue the work still to do.
11. January 2018: Golden Globes & #MeToo
In response to the rise of the #MeToo movement started in 2006 by Tarana Burke, Hollywood celebrities focused their efforts during the annual awards season on calling time on the sexual violence that plagues the industry. The Golden Globes, the precursor to the Academy Awards ceremony, saw actors and activists joining forces on the red carpet to raise awareness of the scale of gender and racial inequality. Tarana Burke attended with Michelle Williams, while Marai Larasi, the executive director of black-feminist organisation Imkaan, went to the ceremony with Emma Watson.
12. February 2018: Supreme Court finds police liable for systemic failings in Worboys case
In the early to mid-2000s, survivors of serial rapist John Worboys reported him to the Metropolitan Police Service. They were failed by police and their reports were not adequately investigated. Worboys went onto harm over 100 women within a 6-year period. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where the Metropolitan Police and Home Secretary stated the police cannot be held accountable when they fail in their duty to investigate serious crimes.
The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), Rape Crisis England & Wales, nia and Southall Black Sisters intervened and, in a historic ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the Metropolitan Police were liable for failures in its investigation. The landmark case means that the police CAN be held accountable for failing survivors.
John Worboys was due to be released this year after 9 years in custody. Following challenges from survivors and women’s organisations, the High Court overturned this decision and he has been denied parole.
13. March 2018: Mass protests in Poland against tightening of abortion law
Poland has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe and in spring this year the far-right government announced proposals to tighten the laws further; banning abortions on the grounds of foetal congenital disorders. This attack on reproductive rights came just 2 years after attempts in 2016 to introduce a complete ban on abortion. These attempts were defeated by mass actions across the country, the so-called ‘black protests’ – where activists took to the streets dressed in black.
In March this year Polish women rallied again and organised a nation-wide strike as well as many other actions. The government was forced to abandon the proposals and feminists continue to fight for safe and legal abortion.
14. May 2018: Ireland overturns abortion ban
In May this year Ireland went to the polls to vote on whether to keep or remove the Eighth Amendment from the Irish constitution. The Eighth Amendment stated that a foetus and a pregnant woman had an equal right to life, which made abortion illegal.
Feminists across the country had already spent decades fighting to get bodily autonomy on the political agenda and when the referendum was announced they formed the Together for Yes campaign. The incredible strength of the campaign resulted in an overwhelming vote to overturn the abortion ban; 66.4% of people voted for the right to choose.
The campaign also paid tribute to Savita Halappanavar (her mural can be seen above) who died of septicaemia after being refused an abortion in 2012.
15. May-October 2018: 60,000 women in Seoul protest inaction over molka
Molka is the Korean word for ‘secret camera’ and describes the practice of taking hidden camera footage of women without their consent. Often this footage is then uploaded to a public porn site. Following the arrest of a woman for taking and sharing video footage of a male nude model a wave of feminist grassroots activism has swept South Korea. Furious at the hypocrisy and double standards of a police force that is so inactive in the face of blatant and constant misogynistic violence, women from across South Korea have taken to the streets in their thousands.
The protests are organised collectively and are women-only spaces where anonymity is paramount. Since the first rally on May 19th, the number of masked women taking part in the monthly protests has swelled from 12,000 to 60,000.
16. November 2018: Support Not Suspicion, Sisters Uncut protest Max Hill’s first day at the CPS
After R V Allan in December 2017, a case dropped at trial in London due to data found on mobile phones, the prevalence of ‘disclosure fears’ became clear – significantly impacting survivor’s experiences of the criminal justice system. In London, survivors are routinely asked for complete access to their mobile phones and electronic devices, as well as counselling notes, medical records, social services records and school records. The impacts of this are stark – survivors feel violated and invaded; it has inordinately increased the length of time the process takes; and charging and conviction rates are decreasing. The response from the criminal justice system has, quite simply, not been good enough.
Sisters Uncut decided to welcome the new Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill, to his new job in style: by blocking the entrance to the CPS offices with 30,000 pieces of paper – the amount of data the system demands survivors give them.
RASASC’s 16 Days of Activism Reading List: