The Global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, launched by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at its first Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991, has gained traction in more than 187 countries, with participation from over 6,000 organizations and a reach of over 300 million. The Campaign, which runs annually from 25 November (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to 10 December (Human Rights Day) has been used effectively by a variety of actors working to advance women’s human rights. Grass-roots women’s organizations, national, regional and international non-governmental organizations, as well as United Nations agencies and governments raise awareness, mobilize constituents, demand accountability and showcase progress on eliminating gender-based violence (GBV). The Global 16 Days Campaign is underpinned by feminist values, human rights principles and the belief that a world without violence is possible.

When the Campaign was initiated, its aim was twofold: to raise awareness of GBV and to recognize violence against women as a human rights violation. In 2016, the Campaign, then in its twenty-fifth year, had successfully raised awareness but was still facing challenges in its efforts to have GBV recognized as a human rights violation. Accountability for GBV continued to fall short. To address those challenges, CWGL, along with its core partners, engaged in reframing the Campaign, shifting its focus from awareness to accountability. It introduced a multi-year global theme and task, and acknowledged the critical role of the media in reporting on GBV.

To ensure that the discourse on how the media covered GBV was reoriented, CWGL has engaged with journalists to develop a standard-setting guide for media entities. This Global Journalism Initiative on gender-based violence (JIG) has brought together over 90 journalists from 35 countries, representing 7 regions of the world1. We hope that the active engagement of journalists will encourage the media to utilize a survivor-centred approach when reporting on GBV, including sexual violence in armed conflict.

In 2018, the Global 16 Days Campaign adopted a multi-year theme with a focus on ending GBV and harassment in the world of work. It coincided with the adoption, in June 2019, of the historic International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 190, which addresses violence and harassment in the world of work. These developments were built on the groundwork done by women-led movements such as #NiUnaMenos and #MeToo, which have initiated global conversations on the need to transform power structures that marginalize and discriminate against women, especially in the workplace. To reflect and respond to these recent developments, the theme for the Global 16 Days Campaign in 2019 will continue to be GBV in the world of work, with a focus on actions supporting the ratification of ILO Convention 190. CWGL has released its advocacy guide for 2019 and launched a new digital platform to strengthen the activism of campaigners worldwide and equip them with necessary tools and resources.

Alexandria, Egypt: Youth joining the stand in Bibliotheca Alexandria on 25 November 2019, denouncing violence against women as part of the 16 Days of Activism Campaign. Photo: UN-Women/Haleem El Shaarani.

ILO Convention 190 recommends that national Governments adopt laws, regulations and policies to ensure the right to equality and non-discrimination in employment and occupation, including for women workers and other persons belonging to one or more vulnerable groups. In addition, the Convention recommends that employers implement a workplace policy on violence and harassment, in consultation with workers and their representatives. Another milestone that the Convention achieved is in acknowledging how intimate partner violence is a workplace issue affecting women’s employment, productivity, health and safety. To this end, the Convention and ILO Recommendation 206 suggest appropriate measures, such as employers granting leave for victims of domestic violence.

In the wake of the recent murder in New York City of women’s rights activist Jennifer Schlecht and her daughter by her husband in a gruesome incident of domestic violence, a GBV area that is of priority to us this year is femicide. Global estimates in 2017 showed that out of the recorded cases of homicide of women, 58 per cent were killed by their partners or family. This makes the home the most dangerous place for a woman. At the 2019 Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, which marked 25 years since the groundbreaking 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo, Egypt, CWGL announced that, at the request of the United Nations Population Fund, it would dedicate 6 December as a day of remembrance, action and accountability to address femicide. That day also marks the anniversary of the 1989 Montreal Massacre, another horrifying episode in which an enraged gunman stormed into Montreal's École Polytechnique and killed 14 women. Through this year’s Campaign, we hope to demand accountability on all gender-related human rights violations.

The Global 16 Days Campaign is one of the longest-running campaigns in the world. Since its inception, the Campaign has linked local and global activism to amplify feminist voices and secure accountability for women’s human rights by transcending borders and bridging movements. It remains relevant to those whose dignity is threatened.


1. Information on the Global Journalism Initiative on gender-based violence was provided by the Center for Global Women’s Leadership, Rutgers University.

6 December 2019