Two women participants in an inter-generational mentoring programme in Uganda. Photo: Gender Based Violence Prevention Network. All rights reserved.
Activism can be as soft as a pillow, as hard as a rock. There are untold ways to be an activist. It's never the wrong time to uphold justice and there is always room to balance power. This seems obvious until efforts to end violence against women are talked about like a job that only certain people can do.
Questions remain concerning the best ways to prevent and respond to emotional, physical, sexual or economic violence against women. Yet the key must lie in everyday action, in whatever situation we may find ourselves.
No matter how intense attempts are to normalise violence against women, it’s crucial to recognise the power of your personal activism. Even when victims get used to their pain, cover scars, or accept death, we can’t give up on our ability to positively influence our own and others’ experiences.
'we can’t give up on our ability to positively influence our own and others’ experiences'
Personal activism is what reaches out and offers safety to the wife who gets beaten or threatened with violence by her drunken husband, even before the police arrives. It’s what defends a lesbian from physical and verbal abuse, no matter what the law says. It’s what speaks out against lower wages for women doing the same job as men, even before a court action.
We usually have grand ideas about activism, thinking that the big rallies, protests on the streets, or the hashtags that make news headlines are the only worthy actions. But often expressions of collective activism like these rely on the personal activism that's necessary to confront the daily presence of violence in our communities.
It's the little things like refusing to watch or share a sex tape slutshaming a celebrity, a colleague at work, or a church member. It’s being sensitive to the pain of victims, like never laughing at a rape joke. It’s refusing to buy from a restaurant that is known for mistreating its waitresses. It’s speaking out against hitting the woman caught stealing money at the market. Often, it is little things that affect people in big ways.
'often, it is little things that affect people in big ways'
Our personal activism ultimately affects what our world becomes. We should take every opportunity to match our words with tangible actions towards justice. We cannot choose to be activists only when it suits us. Activism is consistent in being unconditional.
Everyday actions to defend, protect and support women, children and vulnerable groups are what inspires others to stand by someone being discriminated against in public, and stay with them until their security and safety is ensured; to never make excuses for violence against women; and to rethink tolerated or accepted behaviour and strive for change.
Such everyday actions can spur others to consider and experiment with more positive ways to use their power in potentially abusive situations. They can push others to question their inaction and break the silence around systemic injustice. And they can inspire others to nurture their own power within and overcome fears of challenging the status quo.
Personal activism draws people to love and accept themselves, believe that they are valuable, and feel that they are deserving of their human rights. It is through personal activism that we connect, strengthen our efforts and join our power for greater impact. And this positively influences the lives of others, as well as our own.
Join the Twitter conversation on #VAWactivism, 3-5 Oct 2017.