What good does “16 Days” do?: Reflecting on the role of awareness raising and communication campaigns

Written by Anik Gevers and Elizabeth Dartnall

It’s the end of another round of 16 Days of Activism to End Violence against Women and Girls. For almost 3 decades the end of the calendar year becomes a hive of activity drawing attention to the global issue of violence against women and girls (VAWG).

Many have critiqued the structure of 16 Days of Activism to End Violence against Women and Girls: 16 days annually is not enough. We need 365 days (or 366 days every leap year) of committed action to end violence and build societies across the globe that are safe, equitable, and inclusive for women, girls, and all vulnerable groups to thrive. And yet, the “16 Days” persists and it appears that each year activities during this period get bigger, flashier, more numerous, and more resource intensive.

Many people and groups work tirelessly throughout the year on addressing VAWG and particularly on understanding what truly works to effectively prevent and respond to VAWG. It is exciting that we know more now than ever before about how to prevent VAWG before it begins through addressing the underlying causal and risk factors of this violence.

We also know more about what does not work. One key finding from research reviews is that stand alone awareness raising, and communication campaigns do not end VAWG. Even in the face of this evidence, enormous amounts of resources (money, time, energy) are given to “16 Days” of awareness raising and communication campaigns. Are these events helping make women and girls’ lived realities safer and better by ending violence?

Participation in “16 Days” seems to have become obligatory for key stakeholders who work on VAWG issues throughout the year. Even if we do not feel this is the best use of our energy, time, and money there is significant felt pressure to be active during this global campaign. We wonder if there are others out there feeling the same way about “16 Days”? Working with violence every day is hard, and the impact of the work is often felt most at the end of the year. Many of us are exhausted just when “16 Days” is kicking off – is this how a caring and nurturing field should operate?

We acknowledge that completely abandoning awareness raising and communication campaigns is not what the evidence suggests either.  Awareness and communications must be part of multi-component interventions and within these should play a supplemental role to the other effective components; for example, to improve understanding of the issues and what needs to change, to bring people on board a behaviour and social change programme, or as a convening effort to bring people together and show that they are not alone in their transformative ideas and practices. As a supplement, their role should be proportional to the core effective components.

We are researchers and so we want data to drive our decisions including where and how we direct various resources. We need to engage in rigorous evaluation of 16 Days activities to understand whether they are effective.

A recent evaluation of the 16 Days campaign, shows that many are wondering if such approaches impact VAWG globally, regionally, nationally, and locally, and highlights the difficulties organisations face in raising resources to deliver “16 Days” activities.

“Some long-term 16 Days participants are questioning if they are following a familiar routine and whether their years of activism are making a difference.”

“At the grassroots level, it can be challenging to dedicate or raise funds for a one-time initiative, especially those that do not have a specific GBV program.”

So, we must ask ourselves the – perhaps uncomfortable – question of whether the enormous investments in “16 Days” activities that has become a norm in the field are generating the kinds of changes that justify the costs. How have policies addressing VAWG improved? How has funding for VAWG grown and been used effectively and ethically? Is VAWG actually decreasing or ending? Are women and girls’ lives getting better (and how)?

Perhaps the purpose of “16 Days” is for us as a field to reflect on and celebrate what we have learned and achieved in the past year in addressing VAWG effectively. We then need to see more efforts that are focused on reflection, care, and celebration as well as setting strategic goals and priorities for the coming year that we assess at the following year’s “16 Days”. And the resources assigned to this purpose should also be a more modest proportion of the actual work.

Should we consider that much or some of the resources directed at “16 Days” activities would be better and more ethically spent on evidence-based strategies that will actually reduce and ultimately eliminate VAWG across the globe? We need to be careful that “16 Days” doesn’t take up more attention and resources than the work that will create real, lasting change for women and girls, especially the most vulnerable women and girls around the world.

What are your thoughts and feelings about the costs and benefits of “16 Days” activities? Write to us at svri@svri.org.

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Suggested citation:

Gevers, A. & Dartnall, E. (2020). What good does “16 Days” do?: Reflecting on the role of awareness raising and communication campaigns. SVRI Blog. <insert link here>. Accessed on: <insert date here>

This blog post was peer-reviewed.

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