Well. Well! It’s December! And I know I am supposed to be writing about Christmas and all the festivities in this month. I know! I know! But you have probably heard of the #16DaysOfActivism going on. Or probably not.
The annual 16 days of activism started last week as a global campaign dedicated to ending Gender Based Violence (GBV). Great move, right? Well, how about we start there? Because right there is something that breaks my heart on a daily basis. Shall we? So, early last week, the world marked the International Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls, which also marked the beginning of the annual 16 days of activism to put an end to Sexual and Gender Based Violence against girls and women. It’s a sad story. Even with all 154 countries having secured laws on sexual violence, it still has to be a call for world attention for humanity to be restored. Yet, even then, the number of victims is regularly on the increase! My first thoughts when I saw the 16 days of activism trending was, “Oh great! This was well thought of!” But for a second, different thoughts made their way through my mind, wondering why it’s only 16 days! Who came up with the number 16? Was it because only 16 out of the 365 days are worth it? Or because they would do just enough?
Well, I eventually found the answers for all these and they were all noteworthy. Apparently it’s 16 because of the 16-day span between the International Day of the Elimination of Violence against Gender Based Violence and the International Human Rights Day. If I stopped right here, at least we would all come to a consensus that any form of gender based violence is a violation of the victims’ rights. Let that sink in. Through the past week (and the one coming up), very powerful messages on the evil of GBV have been passed on from activists and as resolutions from high-end round-table discussions and events all over the world. It’s a sign of hope that we are getting somewhere with the ‘demon’. For me however, it didn’t stop at that! I kept wondering why this doesn’t happen all year round! Why we don’t fill all spaces with testimonies from survivors, why we don’t keep naming and shaming all the perpetrators that have been identified, and why we possibly don’t get to know about some of the verdicts after the violence has been reported and offenders identified. Violence never alerts it’s arrival anyways, and we don’t have to wait for another case, another girl, another woman, another man to speak up. Plus, maybe, just maybe, the more we talk about it, the more action it will inspire.
How I wish everyone’s heart breaks for the little girl that is traumatized, dropped out of school, carrying an early pregnancy, and whose self-confidence has been shattered for life, because of the ordeal of sexual abuse that showed up uninvited at her doorstep! How I wish we all joined efforts to put an end to this madness! So that girls don’t have to think twice of who they should trust and who they shouldn’t! So that women don’t have to take months and years contemplating on whether or not to share their traumatic experiences from their spouses with the world! So that no more children will be born by their fellow children, simply because their ‘mothers’ conceived without even knowing it was an abuse! And because of that, they never really talked to anyone about it, until it was discovered that they are with child! How I wish we could disrupt whichever set up perpetrators of this violence have managed to create to silence victims! So we all look out for one another, so we look out for the children who have no idea what’s going on in their world, and so that we all speak up when we see things going wrong! Regardless of whether the victim is someone we personally care about or not! So that we break the culture of silence in the face of violence!
My very first encounter with victims of Sexual Gender Based Violence was with children, most of them below 15 years of age. I took my time to listen to their stories. Surprisingly, they could narrate their ordeal without so much difficulty. Either they had shared it all too often with the world, they were still too young to put a meaning to what happened, or they had received proper counselling services and tried to accept it so they could heal. Because from what I know, the younger the victim, the more severe the effects of the abuse. Through the conversations, you could see trauma, lost trust, and a sense of mistrust for the people they once called their own. It was written all over their faces. See, it’s one thing to be abused by a stranger, (one that you will most likely not see again unless they surface, because they have been pronounced to serve some jail sentence. Or assigned to some hours of community service. Apparently that’s a thing too. Duh!). But it’s completely another, to be molested by someone very familiar. Most of these children’s stories of what exactly happened featured their fathers, uncles, cousins, neighbors, et all.
Sad, isn’t it? These are the same people that these children are meant to trust, confide in and seek a senses of protection. As if that’s not enough, none of the children was able to report the ordeal immediately. Because for a better part, they lived under threats in case they ever spoke out! Some of them had been bribed into silence, it was only by luck that they were ever discovered as victims. Many victims lose their lives in the process, others lose their mind, yet others carry pregnancies, HIV, and lifelong trauma at a very young age. Sad facts! How I wish the image I am painting to yiu with my words would become part of our lives, so that even when the world attention has gone down and probably the trending hashtags are replaced by new ones, we all still have a heart for potential victims! How I wish we translate all the words we have spoken and written about fighting this madness to some action on the ground?
How I wish, we could all take it upon ourselves to reach out and support the victims of abuse in our circles, be it children, girls, boys, women or men! (Yes, boys and men too!) Even if it’s as simple as to create a safe environment for them to report and believing them when they do. Many cases are pushed under the carpets, either in fear of more harm by the perpetrator or in fear of being judged by society norms! ‘Stupid’ society norms! How I wish we all participate to pave a clear path towards a violence-free generation! So that the statistics cease to be just numbers for us to record and compare when they reduce or increase, waiting for someone else to take action. So that we can send in our contribution to mend hearts that have been broken, re-trace dreams that have been shattered, and give a voice to those that seem to have none! But most importantly, so that we can put an end to all this madness of Sexual Gender Based Violence!