From historic convictions to impunity for gang rapes, 2016 has been a year of highs and lows when it comes to efforts to stem violence against women.
United Nations agencies and bodies also produced contrasts over the past year. The World Health Organization’s governing body adopted a new global plan of action on health system response to violence. At the same time, UN peacekeepers were accused of rape and sexual exploitation in Central African Republic and other countries. A scathing independent report cited UN failures in handling peacekeeper abuse.
Then, there are the contrasts in elected officials, and what this means for violence against women. There are contrasts across the globe, but you could hardly see a starker contrast than in North America. In Canada, the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a proud feminist, lifted a prohibition on the use of foreign aid for abortion services, clearing a path for rape victims and others to receive comprehensive reproductive health services. Canada also began a national inquiry this year into violence against indigenous women and girls.
At the same time, US President-elect Donald Trump has publicly bragged about sexual assault and dismissed this as “locker room talk”. He has been accused by more than a dozen women of groping or sexual assault, and has expressed his intention to restrict access to legal abortion and reproductive health services, which would pose grave risks for all women.
Plenty of people around the world are fed up with violence against women, fed up with the lack of accountability for abusers, and fed up with politicians and others who normalize abuse or fail to combat it. They’re taking brave actions to keep shelters open, push for better protections, help survivors heal, and help bring abusers to justice.
Many are taking to the streets. In Argentina, for example, thousands of people wearing black clothes braved torrential rain in Buenos Aires in October to protest the rape and killing of a 16-year-old girl.
I hope the 16 Days of Activism next year will be a time to celebrate more victories, and fewer failures, in the fight against violence against women.