This week starts the UN’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence. I guess that it is fitting that I should be putting the final touches on my dissertation for my Ph.D. from the University of Florida as it looks at the issue of gender-based violence and seeks to create a framework for communicating about the issue in such a way not to re-victimize the estimated 1 in 3 women and girls worldwide who have had this experience.
While collecting data for this terminal degree I became a little dismayed at the phrase, building awareness. It has always been one of my pet phrases used in my public relations practice, but after speaking to close to 30 activists, communicators, scholars, religious leaders and public relations practitioners from around the Caribbean about how public relations can help to reduce incidents of gender-based violence, I became less and less enchanted with awareness building.
Why? Because what I found out is that after over 45 years of awareness building in the region, violence against women and girls is still as pervasive today as it was back then. What has changed, however, is the sophistication in the dialog around the issue, the number of organizations that are involved in helping victims and advocating against the issue, and the incremental changes that have been made in law that have sought to provide better remedies for victims.
For change to happen, we need to go beyond awareness building. Awareness must be a catalyst for action. Until as individuals we are confronted with problems, we do not pay them any attention, but daily women are being physically, emotionally, financially, and mentally abused by strangers, family members, and intimate partners. Our girls are being assaulted on the streets and in their homes, sometimes by men the age of their fathers. Our culture through song and dance is rife with symbols that support violence against women, and we turn a blind eye every time we encounter such situations that do not affect us directly.
Awareness building then needs follow up action. For public relations to work, there must be corporate, social, and political action. We are now into the 16 days of activism, that each year bring the issue of violence against women to the top of the news agenda. Beyond this awareness building, there is need for action. There are some laws addressing gender-based violence, but they are in need of an overhaul to be more effective, and more importantly, these laws need to be enforced. It is therefore time to move beyond awareness building, and for campaigns to pay dividends through positive action.
#genderbasedviolence #VAW #PRforGood #16days #16daysofactivism
N.B. I salute all the courageous, hardworking men and women around the region who have made the fight for equality and justice for women and girls their life’s work.