December 10th is International Human Rights Day. It also marks the end of a two week campaign called 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV), which started on November 25th, International Day Against Violence Against Women. This 16-day period was started as an international campaign by the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership in 1991. The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue, strengthen local work on GBV around the globe, link local and international GBV work, and other key issues targeting local and international GBV work.
Before moving to Tanzania I worked as a community educator in the field of violence against women. Through this work I became very close to these issues and developed a passion for the field specific to human rights. Moving to Tanzania has enlightened me to the fact that the struggle toward social justice is the same all over the world. Our cultures may be vastly different, we may live drastically different lives and problems may be more dire in some locations, but ultimately the equality and social justice issues that people face are the same globally and a similar mindset that supports inequality in America is the same as in Tanzania.
Everyday for the past five years I have been listening to people's stories about the atrocities they face: a woman who has been beaten all day by her husband and ran away leaving her 10-month-old child at home; a friend of a family who's child has been stolen and brought to another town to be sold across the border; a victim of violence who has been charged by the police in order to file a police report; a child who has been molested for decades by a trusted family member. All of these things are normal circumstances for people all over the world. It breaks my heart every time and I still don't understand how we can live in a world where these things happen with such frequency.
But what breaks my heart just as much are the apathy and doubt that the general public feels about such things. I can't tell you the number of times I've found myself in heated debates with people who think we are fighting for social justice by pushing down other people (i.e. that we are trying to take away rights from men) or who try to claim that someone deserved to be hurt because they were in that situation in the first place or who say that people need to be hit or humiliated so they know they are loved. It's these kind of false, hurtful claims that continue to allow violence to happen.
I don't have anything profound or thoughtful to say. I just didn't want the day to completely pass without calling attention to the issue of human rights and to challenge the few readers at this space to do their little part. It doesn't need to be anything big or profound that you do. If everyone corrected misstatements and misperceptions whenever they heard them, we would no longer live in a world that supports inequality.
Doing something says something. But doing nothing also says something.