Activism 101: 16 Ways to Commemorate World Human Rights Day

Today is World Human Rights Day which celebrates and commemorates the creation and existence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which came into being on 10 December 1948. It is one of the most significant days in the United Nations’ calendar of events and it is traditionally on 10 December that the five-yearly United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights and Nobel Peace Prize are awarded. In addition, many activists, charities, government bodies, non-governmental organisations and grassroots groups working on all aspects of human rights protection and promotion schedule special events in observance of the day.

In the introduction chapter of his book, Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist calls violence against women “one of the paramount human rights problems of this century”. Yet, unlike poverty, war, healthcare and children’s rights, the movement to eradicate violence against women (and women’s rights in general) has not garnered as much support as it should even though forms of gender-based violence is alive, well, evident and entrenched in many – if not all – countries, cultures and communities.

Indeed, of all the UN agencies, UN Women (and the different UN women’s agencies that existed prior to UN Women’s inception) has one of the smallest budgets and it is only in the last 3 years that the UN has taken the issue of violence against women seriously enough to form UN Women and to launch their Say NO – UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign.

The reasons for the slow progress of securing and ensuring the right of women and girls to a violence-free life are many including (but not limited to):

  • Social acceptance of violence against women as normal and part of the culture. For example: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting and forced/arranged/child marriage are all part of cultural norms in many countries.
  • A wall of silence surrounds violence against women as many cultures and communities see it as a taboo subject for discussion or a private family matter.
  • Mistaken categorisation of violence against women as a ‘special interest’ issue rather than a universal human rights issue, simply because it involves women.
  • Lopsided political and social power structures where men hold the majority of power to the point where women’s rights are seen as minor commodities to be bartered without consideration for women’s voices and rights. Case in point: the political bartering in Afghanistan.

So we ask that, on this World Human Rights Day, you make a resolution to stand up to say NO to violence against women and to help raise awareness about this most urgent -yet still ignored, condoned and/or hidden – of human rights issues.

It’s time to stop violence against women. Together.

To get you started, here are 16 ways of commemorating World Human Rights Day in ways that will shine a light on violence against women:


Action Number 1: Write About It. If you are a blogger or a media columnist, write about violence against women as a human rights issue as your contribution to World Human Rights Day. But don’t stop there – make sure to set it to go viral online by posting it on Facebook and tweeting it on Twitter.

Action Number 2: Go The Distance. Make the decision today to start training to take part in a marathon/dualthlon/ triathlon so you can walk, run, swim or bike long distance to raise funds for your local anti-Violence Against Women nonprofit/charity as well as to raise awareness about the issue in your community.

Action Number 3: Share A Sign. Poster-like sayings and quotes are now really popular on Facebook as visuals combined with words make a bigger impact. Do the same for violence against women in a positive way by pairing a relevant picture of peace symbols with a call for an end to the violence this World Human Rights Day.

Action Number 4: Say Your Piece. If you have a webcam, one of the most powerful ways of standing up to deliver your message to say NO to violence against women is to record a simple public service announcement that you can post on YouTube and share via Facebook and Twitter. Just figure out what you need to say, put on your best shirt and say it!

Action Number 5: Send Out Those Letters. Tired of seeing women’s rights and laws that could help curb violence against women kicked about like political football or used as a pawn in political negotiations? Write a strongly worded letter to your representative in Congress or Parliament asking them to push for the laws for women’s human rights to be passed and enforced.

Action Number 6: Create a Meme. Internet memes such as Feminist Ryan Gosling, the Breast Cancer Awareness status updates etc are a fantastic way of getting the message out there and viral. So put on your thinking cap, get creative and work with a group of friends to get a “Say NO to Violence Against Women” meme up and running, even if it is only within the social media networks of your social circle.

Action Number 7: Petition, Petition, Petition. Do a search for the latest women’s rights and anti-violence against women petitions on and other social change websites and networks. Then sign as many as you can… or you could start your own petition addressing any particular violence against women issue that your hold dear.

Action Number 8: Perform A Random Act Of Kindness… towards a woman or girl in your community facing violence in her life. It could be as simple as going to your local women’s shelter or rape crisis centre with some food or blankets and spending time with the women there to listen and understand their stories.

Action Number 9: Teach It. Here’s an idea for those of you who are teachers, professors, lecturers, tutors, mentors and coaches: Prepare a special talk/lecture/lesson on the significance of World Human Rights Day and why violence against women needs to be taken seriously as a human rights issue. Then lead a discussion coming out of the lesson/talk/lecture.

Action Number 10: Set A Good Example. If you are a senior male in your family (e.g. a father, grandfather or uncle), set a good example for the younger male relatives by consciously treating your female relatives with respect. If you haven’t done so before, start consciously doing so. Speak to the boys and young men in your family about the importance of resolving disputes and arguments in a non-violent way.

Action Number 11: Hold The Media Accountable. If you see any content that may incite violence against women in newspapers, magazines, movies, television programmes, on websites and on social networks, take the time to write to the producers/editors/creators of this content to take them to task. Encourage your friends and family to do the same. Create a petition if need be. As a media audience and consumer, exercise your voice and speak up against such content.

Action Number 12: The Moment Of Silence. Get your co-workers organised and stage a lunch-time moment of silence in honour of World Human Rights Day and in acknowledgement of all the women and girls worldwide who suffer from gender-based violence.

Action Number 13: Light The Way. Get a group of close friends, classmates and family together to light a candle each after dinner on World Human Rights Day. Each lighted candle represents your symbolic acknowledgement of all the women and girls worldwide who suffer from gender-based violence.

Action Number 14: Book Club It. If you are a member of a Book Club, suggest that your group starts reading a book about violence against women such as Half The Sky, The Colour Purple or Tina Turner’s autobiography to mark World Human Rights Day and start discussing the issues. If you’re not a member of a Book Club, get one organised to do this.

Action Number 15: Sing It, Sista! If you are part of a choir or an a cappella singing group, consider singing a song about violence against women or women’s empowerment as your nod to World Human Rights Day.

Action Number 16: Be Supportive. If your local anti-VAW nonprofit is organising an event or activity in conjunction with World Human Rights Day, contact them and volunteer to help them with the event/activity. If they don’t need any help, then make it a point to attend the event/activity to show support and solidarity for the cause.

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