UNITE! Activism to End Violence against Women and Girls

Communities around the world – including in Canada and Kuwait – are coming together during this year’s #16DaysofActivism to stand against gender based violence (GBV).

GBV is any act of violence based on someone’s gender. While we often think of it as ‘just physical’, GBV can also be emotional, physical, sexual, and financial. It can include everything from threats, humiliation, intimidation, insults, stalking and online stalking, to controlling someone’s financial behaviour or access, to acts of physical or sexual violence.

Across the globe, women and girls are the main targets of GBV. All we have to do to see it is look at the news. No place is exempt. This year in Kuwait there are documented complaints of GBV including domestic violence and violence using electronic means. In Canada today, 3 in 10 women aged 15-24 have or are being emotionally, financially, or psychologically abused by a partner. Around 30 percent of girls and women in Canada aged 15 or older report having experienced at least 1 sexual assault since the age of 15. That is 30 percent too many.

In response, Canada has endorsed the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence, which sets a framework for anyone facing GBV to have reliable and timely access to protection and services, no matter where they live. Because wherever we are, as long as we live in fear of violence — whatever form it takes — we cannot realize our full potential and the world will not benefit from our ideas, creativity, leadership and contributions as it should.

This is an issue that hits close to home. Early in my career, I found myself the target of gender-based violence in the workplace. I was targeted specifically because I am a woman. The behaviors involved were different, ranging from the physical to the psychological, but equally damaging. Each day, I had to force myself to work through my fear and anxiety about what might come at me next, just to be able to do my job. It meant that instead of being able to devote all my energy to my priorities, I had to spend so much of it just protecting myself. It also meant that it took me so much more than my male colleagues just to reach the starting line of showing up at work each day.

Women and girls around the world experience this and far worse everyday — especially women and girls from marginalized groups. GBV in its different forms exists everywhere. Sadly, we do not always take it as seriously as we should. But by learning more about it, and taking action when and where we can, all of us can play a role in ending GBV and in changing the attitudes and stereotypes that allow it to continue.

That is why the Embassy of Canada in Kuwait is proud to be partnering with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United Nations in Kuwait, the British Embassy, and over 20 other embassies and international organizations on the recently launched ‘Young Ambassador’ program which is providing leadership development and mentoring to students across Kuwait.

The program aims to support the ‘young ambassadors’ in becoming confident and effective champions for gender equality and a world in which each of us, regardless of who we are or what we look like, has an equal opportunity to fulfill and contribute to our full potential. We are excited to work with and learn from these talented young advocates over the coming weeks and to hear their ideas to promote gender equality and combat gender-based violence.

When we are dealing with something like GBV, which is so unacceptable and yet so widespread, it can sometimes seem difficult to know where to start and how we can help. Here are a few simple but powerful actions that any one of us can adopt and start putting into practice right now:

Listen: Be open to learning from the experiences of others;

Believe: Support survivors and those affected by violence. It is very important that you say the words ‘’I believe you’’ and ‘’This is not your fault’’. No matter what they were doing, wearing, or saying, GBV is never the fault of the victim/survivor. It takes courage to talk about GBV, so do not dismiss their feelings, no matter how serious or how small the incident may seem to you;

Educate (yourself and others): Learn the facts about GBV; know what your school or workplace policies say about violence and harassment; take a course; participate in an event;

Speak out: Add your voice to call out violence;

Intervene: Find a safe way to help when you see acts of gender-based violence. Name what you see. Express your concern and ask how you can help. Do not assume what those needs are — ask, instead.

Act: Give your time or donate to organizations working to end gender-based violence. There are several great organizations in Kuwait working to stop GBV.

Let us unite and act to stop GBV. Together we can end the cycle so that everyone can feel safe now and into the future.

H.E. Melissa Kelly
Ambassador of Australia

H.E. Belinda Lewis
British Ambassador to Kuwait

Mazen AboulHosn
Chief of Mission, International Organization for Migration (IOM)

Gediminas Varanavicius
EU Chargé d’Affaires a.i.

H.E. Haja Ishata Thomas
Ambassador of Sierra Leone

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