Honoring the International Day Against Violence Against Women

Introduction to the GDI Brown Bag on Gendered Violence

by Sundra Flansburg

The Gender, Diversities & Technology Institute is proud to host this panel today, in honor of November 25, the International Day Against Violence Against Women. For those of you not so familiar with the institute, GDI works to leverage the power of diversity to improve education and work. The Institute's research and programs use the lens of gender and its intersections with race, ethnicity, economic status, disability and sexual orientation to deepen our understanding of critical social problems and to create effective solutions.

As an introduction, I'd like to frame this discussion by sharing a very basic description of what gender violence is, which I'm sure the panelists will add depth to and even challenge.

When we talk about gender violence, traditionally we speak of such violence as sexual harassment, rape, battering, assault, murder, homophobic violence, and violence against transgendered people--all based on deeply ingrained gender-role stereotypes and expectations.

This type of violence often occurs as a means of social control of women and girls, and often occurs when individuals, particularly women and girls, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, attempt to or do step out of traditionally defined gender roles. But it is also targeted against people who face societal discrimination or devaluing based on their gender.

I also want to add that since sexuality is such a central pillar of societal expectations and limitations, sexual violence is often used as a weapon of control, and victims are often targeted because of their sexuality or the violence is justified because of victims stepping outside of rigid roles.

Today, we focus specifically on violence against women. Gender violence affects every aspect of women's lives, because violence impacts not just those who are its direct victims--in terms of physical, sexual, and psychological violence. Violence and the threat of violence limit women's ability to participate in public activities, walk in city streets, voice or even have opinions in their homes, gain an education, participate in training programs, care for their children and loved ones, and every other aspect of human life.

This social control, the fear of violence, the internalized socially-impressed fear of provoking violence or being in some way responsible for it by being outside after dark, by going into the wrong public space at the wrong time, by inviting the wrong person into your home, whether or not you are an actual victim of violence, controls every woman's life to some extent.

If you operate programs that include women or girls, or that want to include women and girls, you are dealing at some level with the issue of violence against women.

Today we want to take this space to nurture ourselves, and share some of the good work that is happening in terms of prevention. We do this to honor November 25, and to get an early start on the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, which runs from the 25th through December 10.

November 25 was declared International Day Against Violence Against Women at the First Feminist Encuentro for Latin America and the Caribbean, held in Bogota in July 1981. The 25th was chosen to commemorate the violent assassination of political activists for democracy Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa Mirabal by the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. The UN officially recognized the day in 1999.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign that links November 25 with December 10, International Human Rights Day--to symbolically link violence against women with the fact that this is a violation of human rights. It encompasses December 1, World AIDS Day, and December 6, the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre.

The 16 days campaign is used primarily as an organizing strategy around the world to call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women, by:

  • Raising awareness
  • Strengthening local work
  • Linking local and international work
  • Pressuring governments to implement the promises made

I'm pleased to introduce this panel of colleagues from the Gender and Diversities Institute:

Penninah Ogada, senior research associate, a native of Kenya and former teachers, she is passionate about this issue and its affects on the education of girls in that country

Terri Boyer Tillbrook, director of technical assistance for the WEEA Equity Resource Center, and formerly the coordinator of a gender violence prevention project in Alabama

Gabriella Canepa, director of the Breaking Barriers project, with significant experience internationally in the area of violence against women, especially in Latin America

And myself, Sundra Flansburg, director of the WEEA Equity Resource Center. I've participated in several projects in the area of gender violence and got especially educated and active during my six years in Costa Rica, where I also wrote by thesis on women's sexual and reproductive rights, where violence was a centrally defining feature especially of women's sexuality.

Each panelist will talk briefly about her work and then we will open up for questions and discussions.