|16 Days of Peace|
On November 25th 1960 in the Dominican Republic, three sisters, Patricia, Minerva and Maria Teresa were brutally beaten and strangled to death. The Mirabel sisters were political activists and a symbol of resistance towards the dictatorship of the day. It was on their way to visit their husbands, imprisoned for their participation in the resistance movement, that their violent murders occurred. Every year, their death, and violence against women worldwide, is remembered on this day, now marked as the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Since 1991, the 25th of November has also marked the beginning of the international campaign ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence’. The campaign lasts until 10th December, International Human Rights Day, as a sign of the fact that violence against women is a violation of human rights and also includes World AIDS Day on 1st December and December 6th which marks the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre when a man gunned down 14 engineering students for ‘being feminists’.
Extensive work in the field of gender violence and communication by the South African NGO, Gender Links has emphasised that gender violence, by its very nature, is a multi-sectoral concern. The only way to effectively counter this issue is through collaboration between civil society actors, the criminal justice system, the media, those working to prevent violence against women and those providing support services. All too often gender activists relegate communication strategies to a low priority, when in fact such strategies should be foremost in their work since the struggle against gender violence is fundamentally about changing mindsets and mobilising communities to take action.
Based on this understanding, Women’s Media Watch (WMW) in South Africa joined with a coalition of Southern African civil society groups last October, to plan and implement a campaign during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. Named ‘16 Days for Peace’, the campaign took the traditional 16 Days of Activism one step further. Inspired by the Alcoholics Anonymous concept of ‘one day at a time’, the campaign sought to start by declaring a ‘truce’ on gender violence during the 16 Days by gathering signatures from men to pledge their support for a stop to violence against women, and then extend that to a year, and then to a life time!
Supported by WACC, WMW held a workshop prior to the 16 Days during which gender activists and communicators from government, NGOs, the private sector and mainstream and community media were trained in the development and implementation of campaign strategies. Participants learnt to craft messages, slogans, logos and posters, to orchestrate these through all forms of media, to convert ideas into action plans, as well as how to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of their campaigns to raise awareness of gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national and regional levels.
When asked by WMW why he was supporting the march, Malixole Gwatuyu, a journalist, replied, “The role of women is important in South Africa. As men we must stand up against what is mainly perpetrated by men against women. Women have been campaigning for a long time, whilst we, the perpetrators, have been silent.” Lawrence Maduma, Provincial Secretary of the South African Communist Party said, “The SACP supports the men’s march. Men are the perpetrators of violence. Today we are here as men with one voice to fight the plight of women and children.”
During the 16 Days of Peace, WMW and other members of the campaign coalition monitored the media for its coverage of the campaign events and the issue of gender violence more generally. Journalists were visible at many of the events staged, however, this was not reflected in the print media. Whilst many NGOs and CBOs planned their campaigns specifically to coincide with the 16 Days of Peace, many journalists failed to make that link. This meant that although many events were part of a planned campaign, the media reflected these marches and rallies in isolation.
Similarly, many stories which appeared in the media during the 16 Days covered issues relating to gender violence, yet few of them were represented by the media as connected to the theme of the 16 Days of Peace. Such stories, including two of femicide, were reported upon as everyday occurrences. There was no attempt to highlight femicide as a violent crime against women, rather femicide was represented as just another murder. Cartoonists, on the other hand, clearly got the message and through their drawings brought home the seriousness of violence against women. The electronic media, advertisements and vox pop also fared better in the monitoring process, covering many of the events taking place as part of the 16 Days of Peace campaign and linking them to the wider issue of gender violence.
The Western Cape is fortunate in the number of progressive community radio stations broadcasting there. Many programmes included interviews with organisations involved in the 16 Days campaign on specific gender violence topics, particularly Bush Radio ‘Fight the Fist’ and Radio KC ‘Word on the Street’. Twice during the 16 Days of Peace, WMW was invited to speak on the ‘Word on the Street’, once on the topic of ‘youth, HIV and the media’ and on the last day of the campaign WMW spoke specifically about gender violence in the media. Both programmes generated a positive response from the public and succeeded in raising awareness on the issues at hand.
Well over 40 organisations participated in the training supported by WACC and all of them went on to run a variety of energetic and creative campaigns under the umbrella of 16 Days of Peace. Whilst gender violence is a global problem that affects women from all cultures and races, the 16 Days of Peace campaign was a specifically Southern African response to the problem of gender violence, which addressed the way in which violence against women intersects with disability, HIV/AIDS and cultural traditions to create a particular local reality in South Africa. Every six days in South Africa a woman is murdered by her husband, boyfriend or close partner. Yet with the vital work that campaigns like 16 Days of Peace have undertaken, there is hope for change – hope that one day this shocking statistic will be no more than a reminder of the past and that peace will last longer than 16 days.
By Judith Smith, Women’s Media Watch, South Africa.
By the WACC-supported Communication Training Workshop participants