opinion

'It starts with you.' We won’t end gender-based violence in 16 days. But we can make progress.

The United Nations is marking the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence from 25 November to 10 December 2021, under the global theme set by the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE campaign: “Orange the World: End Violence against Women Now!”

16 Days of Activism – too modest to encapsulate the pain and angst that women and girls have experienced across the world.  

16 Days of Activism – too small to address the violent deaths of women.

16 Days of Activism is not enough. 

I and many women alone can’t condense the violence that we have experienced, so how do we do it in 16 days?  

How do I summarise the violence that women and girls have experienced from the conception of history? 

The answer is simple, but sad: I can’t.  

Watch: Women and Violence, The hidden numbers. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

In 2021, Australia is on track for at least one woman to be killed each week.

This year, as we celebrate 16 Days of Activism, we also stand in silence for the women and girls that we have lost - amidst a pandemic that has exacerbated the violence.  

Growing up in a low-socio economic area unveiled the discrepancies of equality very early on. In the early years of my childhood, I witnessed the horror that came with identifying as a woman.  

Whilst I was so proud to be a part of my cultural community, the hidden secrets within meant that the stigma of speaking out against gender discrimination was life threatening.  

I grew up in a community that favoured the strength of an alleged persecutor over the strength of a victim speaking up. From the young age of six, I recognised that my culture valued reputation over safety.  

At 21, I stand against the belittlement that survivors within my community and across the country face. 

My identity is my strongest weapon, but it also reminds me of the women who live in fear. It is a double-edged sword that keeps me up most nights and reminds me of the privilege that comes with being a first-generation Australian.

But my identity also reminds me of why it is necessary to amplify the voices of my fellow sisters who have yet to find their strength. 

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There is power in standing united, against the discrimination that we call gender-inequality.  

The women that live their life holding their tongue, silenced by the patriarchy, are a reminder of why it is urgent to create safer societies and abolish the stigma within respective communities. We cannot continue to ignore the silent pleas that come from our sisters who fear the annihilation, the backlash and the abuse that comes with utilising their very voice.  

But how do we create safe spaces across a variety of different communities? The answer starts with you.  

As a young Muslim from a Palestinian and Iraqi background, my very voice is a testament to disapprove the discrimination that is upheld within my community. 

At 21, I still experience the gossip that comes with being outspoken. The ‘undesirability’ that follows a woman for using her voice to speak out against a culture that transcends the abomination of gender stereotypes.  

But I continue to use my existence as a shield to change the taboo that comes with being a Muslim woman.  

Unity in a time of despair is needed like the air we breathe. Because without it, we submit to what society projects is appropriate behaviour. Without it, the voiceless are silenced once more. 

Without it, we continue to lose lives. 

During these 16 Days of Activism, I call upon you to call out the stereotypes and stigmas that follow within your own communities. We must start small, at the grassroots level, to make the long-term transformational change.  

These next 16 days, I also remember the voices we have lost in the past two years alone. 

These next 16 days, we need your voice too.

Together, we can challenge the drivers of violence against women and girls – make it unacceptable to be violent, promote women’s independence and decision making, and encourage equal and respectful relationships. 

The gravity of ending gender-based violence far outweighs what we can cover in 16 days but we can find our strength to fight together, every day of the year. 

While we won’t end gender-based violence in 16 days, we can make progress.

Zahra Al Hilaly is a catalyst for change that has worked within youth leadership at a local, national and international level. She is currently a law and journalism student at Murdoch University. Her advocacy specialises in the field of gender equality, migrant and refugee empowerment and intersectional representation within decision-making structures. Among other things, Zahra currently represents young people across the world on the Generation Equality Core Group with UN Women and the respective France and Mexico governments. She sits on multiple advisory bodies including the YWCA Young Women’s Council and the MYAN Youth Ambassador Network. She has been published by Gucci, SBS Australia and Al Jazeera and has was named the under 25s Asian-Australian for 2021.

Feature Image: Getty.

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