More Than 16 Days: Renewed Activism & Meaningful Impact

Day 16 of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: This article is written Kate Otto, author of Everyday Ambassador and Huffington Post blogger.

As the “16 Days of Activism” comes to a close, we now look ahead to many days before us as a time of renewed activism and re-inspired activity.

For many men and women, this means we look for opportunities to take action on the information we have absorbed in the past two weeks, and meaningful ways to make the world a more equal, safe, and respectful place for women.

But how can we be sure we are contributing to an issue that we have seen includes so much complexity?

At Everyday Ambassador, our strategy is to hold a mirror up to ourselves as we engage in issues like gender equality and women’s rights – from Brooklyn, NY to Kabul, Afghanistan. We try to make time for reflection in our fast paced world, to better understand what skills it takes to make a real difference.

As a closing note to this series, EA would like to offer up some nuggets for your own reflection as you think about how you will move forward to promote women’s rights in your work around the world.

Empathy – In the world of gender equality, we often take this term to mean our capacity to put ourselves in a woman’s shoes and provide every service we can to make it better. But many well-intentioned people and programs end up overlooking the legitimate constraints to the actions we hope will change the world.
For example, it may be common sense that women the same rights as men, but what if you teach a group of young girls in a more conservative society to ‘fight for their rights,’ and when they bring these new ideas home, they are abused or punished further for their change in behavior?
Empathy implies a 360-degree understanding of what a woman faces, and how to help her manage that full spectrum of challenges – and that includes not just working with women, but with everyone in her life. I encourage you to check out the work of my friends Jimmie Briggs at ManUp to get a taste of what that looks like in action, and to check out this great research from Harvard Business School that makes the case for deep empathy in designing programs for young women.

Patience – It’s no surprise that after hearing the injustices that most women around the world face, that we want to take immediate action and see immediate results. There is something sacred about this impatience, and energy we pour into our advocacy. Yet at the same time, if we rush too quickly to squash an injustice, we may end simply frustrated, losing our steam, upset that we aren’t seeing change happen. I think to my friend Shamila Kohestani, captain of the first women’s soccer team in Afghanistan, who speaks eloquently and maturely about the long timeframe it will likely take for women’s rights to be encated – and this coming from someone fighting on the frontlines everyday!

Patience is especially important it comes to centuries-old practices like child brides and female genital mutilation; if a tradition took ages to develop, it will not be given up because a stranger arrives on scene and says it can’t be so. Change takes time (and community partnership!) and sometimes the fastest solutions require longer-term planning than our emotions would like to allow.

Humility – A lot of fuel for today’s women’s rights campaigning comes from the Western world, even as it has been adopted by women across the planet. It is important to be careful of transferring programs and policies that work in secular, western societies into cultures that are either religious, tribal, or far less democratic and individualistic than those from which many volunteers come.
We may have the right spirit and sentiment, but the wrong ideas of what it will take to make them come to fruition. As our contributor Akhila Kolisetty told us about her work in Afghanistan, one solution to this is taking a backseat, and building strong partnerships with local leaders, and providing them the support they need to bring their more societally-sound strategies into center stage.

If you are already working on these issues in your own organization, then I encourage you to keep up the amazing work, and continue self-reflecting the larger your impact scales. And please – share your work with our community at Everyday Ambassador!

If you are eager for a new, or introductory experience to this issue, there are many volunteer programs that offer opportunities to engage in women’s equality work – one of our favorites being the Foundation for Sustainable Development, and many more listed on our site.

Thank you for following the 16 Days Series, and may the days before you be filled with meaningful impact and a world more safe and just for all humans.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is a global campaign dedicated to ending gender-based violence. In participation with The Center for Women’s Global Leadership, The Women Worldwide Initiative is hosting a Blog Series entitled, More Than 16 Days, from the start of the Campaign on the International Day for the Elimination of Gender-Based Violence on November 25th, to Human Rights Day on December 10th with contributions from one of our Board Members, founder of Everyday Ambassador, Stop Street Harassment, Take Back the Tech!, Young Professionals Amnesty International (NYC), writers for the International Political Forum and young women from Women LEAD, based in post-conflict Nepal.

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