The 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women campaign was a campaign conceptualised by women's rights activists. Tying together the critical dates of November 25: International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and December 10: World Human Rights Day and stringing together other critical dates in between, this campaign was above all else an activist campaign.
November 25 became known as International Day of Protest of Violence Against Women in memory of the Mirabel sisters. The three sisters who were a part of a political movement against the Trujilo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic and who despite being incarcerated and tortured never gave up until finally they were killed by the henchmen of the Trujilo dictatorship on November 25 1960. The work and efforts of the Mirabel sisters has become iconic in the feminist movement and many women's rights activists continue to struggle against all odds against military dictatorships.
The White Ribbon Campaign started following the Montreal Massacre when men joined in the efforts to advocate for the elimination of men's violence against women. It was an initiative by men and has also gained momentum over the years.
Somewhere along the line in some regions, November 25 has come to be known as White Ribbon day. While ultimately the intentions of the White Ribbon campaign is about the elimination of violence against women, having that as the focus of the beginning of a campaign whose history is etched in feminist struggles takes away the political edge that feminists have worked so hard to keep at the forefront of any debate and forum.
The White Ribbon campaign was initiated by men who understood and supported the women's movement and the political edge of the women's movement. However, the way in which the White Ribbon campaign is promoted in some regions, in particular in the Pacific, is about romanticising men's involvement in the campaign. There is very often no accountability on the part of the men "roped in" to wear a white ribbon and there is definitely no political discussion around the issue of men's violence against women. In fact, men who make the so-called "pledge" are adulated and praised for joining in the campaign. When we protest against violence against women, we are protesting against patriarchy and its entrenched attitudes and behaviours, we are protesting against how it has become institutionalised in systems like militarisation and we are protesting how all men benefit from male power and privilege.
So, when we put a couple of men on a stage and pin a white ribbon on them as an act of symbolism without any true commitment and accountability on their part or challenge the systems of male power and privilege, we take away the political edge which we have struggled to put into a campaign such as the 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women. There is no doubt whatsoever that men can and should be a part of the campaign and we all know that it is strategic to do so. However, when we as women have so few political spaces to lay claim on we need to ensure that those spaces highlight the issues that we want to highlight. For a region that has some of the highest rates of intimate partner violence in the world, we need to name the violence that women experience and we need to remember that November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.