16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence

BHESP activists at a photo session during the retreat. UNiTE! Activism to end violence against women and girls.

16 days of activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is a civil society–led campaign which was started by the Centre for Women Global Leadership in 1991. Every year, civil society organizations, governments, independent media houses, and other institutions call for collective action to end GBV through engaging with different campaign strategies. This year, the campaign’s theme designed by UN Women is: “UNiTE! Activism to end violence against women and girls.” Principles of the theme include honoring and acknowledging women’s movements, leaving no one behind, using a survivor-centered approach that is multi-sectoral and transformative, elevating the voices of young feminists, and using the color orange as a source of unity across campaign messaging.

Over the years Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme (BHESP) has joined several other Civil society organizations and activists in these significant days, underscoring that violence against women is a violation of human rights. According to UN Women, 1 in 3 women experience GBV during their lifetime, less than 40% of women seek help of any sort after experiencing GBV. BHESP database reports have indicated an increase of violence cases from 2020 owing to the COVID pandemic, economic instability and the climatic change crisis. This year BHESP community of activists have run sensitization sessions for marginalized women (Sex workers, sexual minority women & young girls) on Violence prevention and response as well as standing with survivors of GBV, and offering support services. As strategy BHESP has also built a network of activist who have amplified survivors’ voice in government spaces and stakeholder forums like the Court user’s committee to help bridge the gap between law and practice. Furthermore, BHESP has not loosened its belt in following up and evaluating the implementation of laws addressing the prevention and response of GBV. For this, we have worked closely with the police, judiciary, and another first line of defense for victims of GBV.

BHESP campaign efforts during 16 days of activism against GBV has received a mixed reaction from relevant stakeholder; with one hand recognizing &rewarding our efforts while the other backlashing human rights defenders/activist in the line of sex workers and sexual minorities women. The backlashing might be as a result of stigma and discrimination against the women we represent.

“We understand anti- feminist movements are on the rise, attacking women’s rights defenders left, right, and center. Despite this, BHESP shall continue making the necessary noise to amplify the voices of survivors of GBV. Violence against women and girls is not negotiable, and we cannot be silenced and we will not be silenced. We are calling upon all activists and women’s rights defenders to unite despite the challenges we face. Our women’s movement should be stronger now than ever. We should stop at nothing until we see tangible results in the fight against GBV” said Peninah Mwangi, Executive Director at BHESP.

Today as we mark the end of the 16 days’ campaigns, the BHESP community of defender are at Naivasha for an annual retreat reflecting on the strides made the whole year in combating and responding to GBV for the marginalized women ( sex workers, sexual minority women, and adolescent girls) The activists have used the space to come up with inclusive, comprehensive and long –term strategies and programs that will help in fast-tracking prevention and elimination of violence against marginalized women and girls. The team also came up with a safety and security plan that will be used in the coming years.

“We have to stay alive and with no threat of life, the dead cannot speak! It is important that we elevate our voices – It is our calling … “Said Josephine Achieng, deputy director at BHESP.

“Friends, we have to address the root cause of GBV, including the recognition of GBV as a violation of human right. Let us all work together, not just during the 16 days of activism, but every day to end all forms of GBV. Happy International Human Rights Day,” concluded Josephine Achieng during her opening remarks at the retreat.

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