November 25th was the International Day Against Violence Against Women. December 10th is International Human Rights Day. The International Women’s Development Agency has declared the intervening 16 days the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. As the IWDA explains, “these dates are important in symbolically linking violence against women and human rights, and emphasising that violence against women is a fundamental violation of human right.” Every day, the IWDA highlights a different form of violence, or a different international hotspot, or draws attention to the unique was in which a particular policy issue affects women.
Today, for example, is World AIDS Day, and the IWDA has focused on HIV/AIDS in Papua New Guinea. PNG has the highest incidence of HIV and AIDS in the Pacific region, and in some regions, young women are twice as likely as young men to be infected.
The IWDA’s 16 Days campaign has inspired others to raise awareness and take action against gender violence. Kate Ravenscroft, a young Australian woman and a sexual assault survivor, has launched a blog called 16 Impacts of Sexual Assault. Ravenscroft writes that “The realities of being a victim of violent crime are so little understood, and victims are given so little space to articulate their experience. The media, the law-enforcement and justice systems and most people see the crime but not the impact.” Each day, Ravenscroft describes a different impact of her assault – shock, shame, exhaustion – in an attempt to describe what it’s like to live with the aftermath of gender violence.
Yesterday, Day 6, Ravenscroft wrote about flashbacks:
Flashbacks hold many of the injurious characteristics of the assault itself – they are violent, unexpected, invasive and uncontrollable. From one moment to the next everything can change. Seemingly anything, from the obvious to the innocuous or absurd, even people and places that have a long history of positive memories, can suddenly turn on you and bury you in a flashback. You can go from a present moment that seems completely safe, known and manageable to being there, then, reliving the assault as if for the first time all over again.
What Ravenscroft is doing is unimaginably difficult, laying her soul bare in an effort to heal, and to help people to understand what it is that she’s going through, what hundreds of thousands of women go through every day around the world. Similarly, the work IWDA is so important, and is being done in regions that are often forgotten and on behalf of a group – poor women in the developing world – that is too often ignored. I commend the IWDA for its commitment to ending violence against women and for demonstrating the connections between gender, health and violence. And as for Ravenscroft? I am in complete awe of her courage and her strength.