Activism 101: 16 Striking Campaigns for the Cause to End Violence Against Women

As we have noted and discussed time and time again, Violence Against Women (VAW) is an issue that is considered controversial, taboo and/or normal in many communities and cultures worldwide to the point where, depending on the community and culture, any of the following take place:

  • VAW is swept under the rug – characterised as a “private” family matter that should never be discussed in public.
  • VAW becomes the “elephant in the room” in public discourse whereby communities know who is doing the beating/who are the rapists/who is being cut etc but willfully turn a blind eye.
  • VAW is seen as too “triggering” or ugly a topic to be discussed in normal conversation even while the media and entertainment normalises and desensitises VAW.
  • VAW is ridiculed as a special interest issue – a “women’s issue” – even if women comprise half the planet’s population and are certainly not a minority/special interest group.
  • VAW is demonised as a feminist and sexist red herring by Male Rights Activists and other upholders of the patriarchal norm.

Indeed, VAW activists generally work with and have to negotiate and do battle with a whole host of societal pressures, hostile attitudes, community sabotage and cultural resistance when effecting change. Any wrong move would have consequences ranging from simple backfiring of a campaign to facing a death threat.

Therefore, many VAW activists recognise that they have to be more creative than activists working in more popular causes (e.g. cancer, children’s issues, animal rights and the green movement). A sense of humour and a penchant for effecting change from within also does not go amiss.

So today, in honour of all VAW activists, nonprofits and grassroots group to toil in such thankless situations to bring about positive change to the lives of women and girls facing violence, we present 16 of the most striking campaigns/programmes we have come across in the last almost 3 years of our work in no particular order.

What these campaigns have in common are:

  • The built-in “water-cooler” factor that gets the community buzzing about the campaign and by extension, the issue of VAW.
  • A good sense of what works in and for the culture and community where the activist/nonprofit/grassroots group is trying to effect change.

We hope that these campaigns and initiatives inspire you to take action and get on board the cause to end VAW.

It’s time to stop violence against women. Together.
Creative VAW Campaign/Programme 1: The White Ribbon Ride – New Zealand

The White Ribbon campaign New Zealand, in partnership with the Patriots Defence Force Motorcycle Club, presented The White Ribbon Ride campaign (19 – 26 November 2011) which encouraged men with motorcycles to ride on a pre-arranged route through the North and South Island areas of New Zealand to give talks and spread the message of stopping violence against women and girls in New Zealand.

Creative VAW Campaign/Programme 2: Women-only Taxis – India

In New Delhi, one of India’s most populous cities where it is an equally crazy place to drive and to be a woman (Delhi is said to be the Rape Capital of India), Sakha Consulting Wings, India’s first women-only taxi company has been offering New Delhi’s women safe rides since they started two years ago. Organizers have so far trained 75 women to drive taxis and work as chauffeurs. Most of the trainees come from the slums that are found throughout Delhi. “We’re doing two things with our service,” says Meenu Vadera, Sakha’s founder. “We’re providing a livelihood with dignity for women, paying them a starting salary of 5,000 rupees ($110) a month, and we’re providing a safe means of transport for women in the city.”

Creative VAW Campaign/Programme 3: Getting The Message Across on Airplanes – Thailand

As part of her ongoing work as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, HRH Princess Bajrakitiyabha worked in partnership with UNIFEM, Thailand’s Ministry of Justice and Thai Airways to present this public service announcement as part of the in-flight fundraising initiative “Change NOW! Say NO to Violence Against Women” on board all domestic and international flights—a total of 250 flights a day! What a way to spread the message to what is essentially a captive – literally – audience! Have a look:

Creative VAW Campaign/Programme 4: An Alternative Rite of Passage to FGM – Kenya

Pixel Project Female Role Model, Cathleen Holland, works with midwives and birth attendants in Kenya to educate communities about the dangers of Female Genital Mutilation. In 2009, Lopus and Lodio – two midwives Hollond initially worked with – got more than 60 traditional birth attendants from across Pokot together to spread the word about the dangers of FGM. “The idea they came up with,” says Holland, “was to put together an alternative rite-of-passage ceremony that didn’t involve cutting.” Holland fundraised for a week-long girls’ camp that would end in a public ceremony to initiate 100 young girls into adulthood without FGM. The camp – which is the subject of a Guardian film – involved workshops and classes about the dangers of FGM, as well as dancing and fun events and was a roaring success with demand outstripping spaces available.

Creative VAW Campaign/Programme 5: The Movers for Moms Programme – United States of America

For Mother’s Day 2011, Scofield Magnet Middle School students teamed up for the second time with Stamford, Connecticut’s Two Men and a Truck moving company to donate various items to mothers who aren’t expecting anything this Mothers Day. Yara Almodovar, office administrator for Stamford’s Two Men and A Truck said the “Movers for Moms” programme was started by the moving company four years ago in Michigan to help out mothers in need. The program collects everyday necessities, such as toiletries, soaps, lotions and baby formula, and donates them to local shelters, said Almodovar. Last year ,the program collected more than 20,000 items and distributed them to 14 shelters and safe houses in Michigan, Denver, Colo., Durham, N.C., Toledo, Ohio, White Plains, N.Y. and here in Fairfield County. Almodovar the hope is to surpass 30,000 items in 2011.

Creative VAW Campaign/Programme 6: Giving Women With FGM a Second Chance at Health – United Kingdom

The Acton African Well Woman Centre, a community project based in west London, has developed unique expertise in helping women who have arrived in the UK, having been through the trauma of female genital mutilation (FGM). It is the only scheme to offer reversal treatment to women who have undergone the severest form of the practice when they were younger, leaving them often in constant pain. Thanks to the project, these women are able to book an appointment without the embarrassment of seeing a male general practitioner and waiting months for a hospital consultation. Instead of the trauma of going to a hospital operating theatre, women can undergo the reversal in a 30-minute procedure under local anaesthetic. Juliet Albert, a specialist FGM midwife who is based in Acton, where there is a large Somali community, says the centre has de-infibulated 160 women since it started three years ago. A further 16 women have been referred for hospital-based treatment and 29 for specialist trauma consultations.

Creative VAW Campaign/Programme 7: A Man Runs and Canoes For The Women of Congo – United Kingdom and Congo

Britisher Chris Jackson was so haunted by what rape victims in Congo told him he decided to run 12 marathons in 12 months to raise awareness of their plight. Friends who accompanied Jackson to Congo (a film-maker, a photographer, a journalist and a running buddy) helped put together footage, reports and photography recording his marathon and encounters there. This led to programmes on the BBC World Serviceand Channel 4 News, among others. Jackson has now run more than 2,000 miles, including training, and raised more than £4,000 for Amnesty International and Women for Women International. More importantly, he has helped reach people who may otherwise not have heard about the brutal war in Congo. More than 10,000 people have read his blog, a few hundred follow him on Twitter and many have heard him speak. Now that Jackson has completed his 12 marathons, he is undertaking to canoe for the cause.

Creative VAW Campaign/Programme 8: It’s All In The Teeth – Canada

Hamilton’s Woman Abuse Working Group (WAWG) wants to enlist hygienists and the dental profession as front-line spotters in the fight against abuse of women. Every professional hygienist in Hamilton is going to receive an education kit flagging the signs of domestic abuse. Looking into a client’s mouth, a hygienist who knows the territory will be able to spot changes and telltale signs of injuries related to domestic abuse: chipped or broken teeth, neck bruising, split lips, cuts, black eyes and bruising. Valerie Sadler, WAWG’s chair of public awareness and education, said the program targeting the dental profession is one more example of professions getting together to help stop violence against women.

Creative VAW Campaign/Programme 9: Soft Sell Beats Jail Cell – Australia

In New South Wales, men convicted of domestic violence-related crime are required to attend a 10-week course where they learn to identify warning signs, question their attitudes, focus on the effect on their partner and children, and change their reactions. The program is run by the Department of Corrective Services and an evaluation has shown those who undertake the rehabilitation program are 21% less likely to commit new violent offences. The Corrective Services Commissioner, Ron Woodham said: ”The most elusive element to date has been approaches that change the behaviour of perpetrators and this program does just that.”

Creative VAW Campaign/Programme 10: Getting Tweety With It – Online Campaign

When Facebook turned a deaf ear and blind eye to the campaign by calling for Facebook to take down the pro-Rape pages on its site, the organisers got creative and turned to competing social media site, Twitter,  to get Facebook to enforce its own Terms of Service. After two months and 186,000 signatures with no response – not even an insulting one about bar banter, urged the 186K people that had already signed the petition to tweet the URLs of Facebook pages promoting sexual assault with the tag #notfunnyfacebook. With support publicity from Ms. Magazine the #notfunnyfacebook campaign supporters were tweeting the hashtag at a peak rate of 200 tweets per hour before Facebook finally got the message and took down some of the pages.

Creative VAW Campaign/Programme 11: Tackling Violence Against Women using Television Programming and Masks – Afghanistan

Afghanistan has been called one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman, and much of that danger lies in the home. “The Mask”, a Kabul-based television talk show enabling women to speak out about the violence they face while wearing masks to protect their identities has been running for almost a year and challenging the gender-based violence that is endemic in Afghan culture and community. Producer Sami Mehdi said: “When a woman is prepared to talk about [it], it breaks taboos.”

Creative VAW Campaign/Programme 12: Immortalising the Slain Women of Ciudad Juarez – United States of America and Mexico

Diane Kahlo embarked on her project to paint the women and girls of Ciudad Juarez three years ago, when she began researching the slain girls of Juárez. Kahlo paints their lives so they won’t be remembered only for their deaths. Kahlo is up to 150 painted portraits and images, but there have been many more victims; no one really knows. She paints with fury, sometimes with tears, but most of all as a mother. “I painted them as a mother would because I’m trying to create a memory,” said Kahlo, 61. “I wanted them to be remembered as they were,” not as they were found, sometimes mutilated beyond the point of identification.

Creative VAW Campaign/Programme 13: Ballet Against Violence – Canada

“Ghosts of Violence”, a ballet about Domestic Violence, grew out of a 2007 short work of the same name. TheMuriel McQueen Fergusson Foundation for Family Violence Research asked ABTC to create a piece appropriate for a fundraiser for their Silent Witness Project. “When this short piece left the audience in tears,” Dobrovolskiy says, “I knew we had to expand the theme into a full-length, two-act ballet.” The piece has captured the interest of agencies and organizations that work with abused women. There are so many cities that want the ballet that “Ghosts of Violence” will be crisscrossing the country for three years in order to fit them all in, including special performances for high school students at every stop.

Creative VAW Campaign/Programme 14: “Unwanted” Girls Get a Name Change – India

About 150 of more than 200 girls called “Nakusa”, which means “unwanted” in the local Marathi language of western Maharashtra state, got rid of their first name for good on under an initiative in the district of Satara.Sudha Kankaria, an activist who runs the local Save Girl Child charity and who has been involved in the renaming project, said the “Nakusas” of Satara were living examples of prejudice against girls which lead to the high rates of femicide in the country. Because of their first name, many girls had poor self-esteem, were embarrassed and discriminated against, with the risk that they will pass on their insecurities to their own daughters, she added. “It’s a vicious circle and we should break it. With this project, we are benefiting two people: the Nakusas and the future Nakusas,” she said.

Creative VAW Campaign/Programme 15: Pink Credit Cards In The Fight Against VAW – Trinidad

First Citizens bank has launched its pink visa credit card, to help end violence against women. The bank will pledge $200K every year to the PINK card fund. Customers will also have the opportunity to pledge either $25, $50, $75 or $100 monthly. The money would be disbursed to the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, The Rape Crisis Society of T&T and Families in Action to assist in the funding of their operations and programmes which aim to end violence against women.”

Creative VAW Campaign/Programme 16: SlutWalk – Worldwide

The SlutWalk protest marches kicked off on April 3, 2011,in Toronto, Canada, and became a movement of rallies across the world. Participants protest against explaining or excusing rape by referring to any aspect of a woman’s appearance. The rallies began when Constable Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto Police officer, suggested that to remain safe, “women should avoid dressing like sluts.” The protest takes the form of a march, mainly by young women, where some dress in ordinary clothing and others dress provocatively, like “sluts.” There are also speaker meetings and workshops. The controversial nature of Walk has engendered furious debate about whether it is truly effective is getting the message to stop victim-blaming across as effectively as it should or whether it is simply a stunt that will only have temporary impact. Nevertheless, whatever critics say, there is no denying that SlutWalk has struck a chord with many women and men and paved the way to more conversation about victim-blaming and rape.

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