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16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence

16 ways the IRC helps women and girls access their basic rights

On Wednesday 25th, we commemorated the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which kicks off the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. Women and girls around the world face violence and discrimination year-round. During a humanitarian crisis this violence in all its forms is exacerbated. We use the next weeks to shine a light on the struggle of women and girls in their fight against inequality and violence.

This year for “16 days” we highlight 16 basic rights that women and girls are so often denied in the places where we work, as well as the ways IRC supports women and girls in claiming their rights and acting as agents of change in their communities. 

1. Violence is part of the everyday for millions of women and girls. Globally, 1 in 3 women will experience violence during her lifetime.

As women and girls flee war and disaster, they are increasingly vulnerable to violence from strangers and even those within their home.Violence against women and girls is fueled by patriarchal attitudes, beliefs, and power dynamics. Every year the IRC trains and educates some 2.5 million women, girls, men, and boys in ways to prevent violence against women and girls.

2. Every girl has the right to an education - a girl with an education can shape her own future and transform her community and the world.

There are 62 million girls around the world who are not in school - many of whom have fled conflict and crisis. Girls who are not permitted to go to school are more vulnerable to early marriage and other forms of violence, HIV/AIDS, and have fewer economic opportunities. From Pakistan to South Sudan, the IRC works to ensure that girls around the world are enrolled in school so they learn to take control of their lives and can pursue their potential.

3. Girls have the right to not be forced into marriage – to have a childhood and as adults decide when and to whom they want to marry.  

14 million girls under 18 will be married this year. The consequences are myriad; pregnancy is the 2nd leading cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide and girls who are married are often forced to drop out of school, making them more vulnerable to violence. In times of conflict and crisis rates of early marriage increase i.

On the Thai-Myanmar border, the IRC works with local women’s groups to run programs educating parents, teachers, government officials, community leaders, and girls on the risks of early marriage and the need to invest in girls’ education.

4. Women and girls have the right to be safe in their own homes – to live free from physical, emotional, and economic abuse.

 In our work in countries recovering from war in West Africa, the IRC has found that the greatest threat to women's safety is not a man with a gun or a stranger. It is their husbands. In Côte D’Ivoire, the IRC led a nationwide marketing campaign using television and radio ads, billboards, and a toll-free hotline to challenge social norms around domestic violence and alert survivors to services they can access.

5. Women and girls have the right to equal and safe access to healthcare – in any context, medical care for women and girls should not be optional.

When a crisis hits, the health needs of women and girls are often the last to be met. Childbirth often becomes more risky because of difficulty accessing clinics and survivors of sexual assault can have difficulty accessing medical treatment.

In Chin State, a remote region in western Myanmar, IRC-trained midwives and community health care workers provide women with a broad range of maternal health and family planning services, guidance on proper breastfeeding, and immunizations for their children. Globally, we work with communities, women’s groups, and governments to ensure women and girls have access to safe, quality healthcare.

6. Women and girls have the right to safe and secure shelter – where they can have privacy and live with dignity.

For women and girls living in refugee camps, privacy is often impossible, they may be forced to share tents with strangers or live in spaces that lack walls and locks. Without proper lighting in camps, women and girls often don’t leave their tent after dark - afraid to even go to the bathroom.

The IRC supports over 20 centers for women and girls across northern Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. These are “safe spaces” for women and girls to come together, and access support to recover from trauma. 


7. Women and girls have the right to clean and safe water and sanitation. Access to a toilet is a basic human right, yet millions of women and often have nowhere safe to go to the bathroom.

Communal toilet blocks are dangerous spaces with little privacy, where women are vulnerable to harassment, rape and other forms of violence.In rural areas of countries like Ethiopia and South Sudan, the IRC works with local communities to build essential latrines and bathing facilities in areas that women and girls have identified as safe and easily accessible.

8. Women and girls have the right to be safe as they walk through their community and meet their basic needs.

Collecting firewood, searching for clean water, traveling to the market for food are daily tasks that may expose women and girls to risks such as kidnapping, assault, and rape, because they often have far to travel to meet the basic needs of their families.

The IRC works with local women’s groups around the world, supporting them in designing and implementing programs that keep women and girls safe in their homes, and as they travel within and outside their communities to meet their basic needs. 

9. Women and girls with disabilities have the right to live safe from violence and have access to lifesaving services. 

There are an estimated 7.6 million women and girls with disabilities displaced from their homes.In humanitarian crises, these women and girls are more vulnerable to violence and abuse, because they are often less able to protect themselves. Women and girls with disabilities who are survivors of violence face additional obstacles when trying to access support and services.

The IRC recently conducted a project to identify the barriers women and girls with disabilities face, as well as solutions for addressing their needs in Burundi, Ethiopia, Jordan, and the Northern Caucasus.

10. Women and girls have a right to live free from exploitation In an emergency, women and girls can be forced to engage in transactional sex in exchange for basic goods such as food, clothing, sanitary napkins, and even school fees.

In Jordan, the IRC’s cash assistance programme, which uses ATM bankcards, provides women and their families with a means to meet their needs without facing the risk of exploitation. It has benefitted over 2,400 refugee families to date. In addition, over 13,400 “dignity kits” consisting of sanitary napkins, soap and other essential items have been distributed to women and girls of reproductive age.

11. Women and girls have a right to equal access to economic opportunities and to make decisions about their own finances. 

When women have control over resources and can generate an income, they have more chances to participate in the decisions that affect their lives. Unfortunately, especially in times of crises, women and girls are often denied opportunities to make and save money. The IRC has developed an innovative model called EA$E (Economic and Social Empowerment) that gives women financial stability and helps enhance their status in their households. Through EA$E over 26,000 women have saved close to 1.4 million USD.


12. Women and girls have the right to have their voices heard and valued - “I want my voice to be heard, so that everyone can feel with us.” – Zaeemah, Syrian refugee in Jordan.

Women and girls make up the highest number of refugees and displaced populations, and yet they are the least visible. In their communities and in the international arena they are routinely excluded from the key decisions that affect their lives.

The IRC supports women’s groups in developing their advocacy skills and by creating opportunities for them to participate in key events where they can share their own vision for change. This past year, the IRC sponsored Bageni Yaeli Mukeshimana and Jacqueline Cibalonza - two women leaders from the Democratic Republic of Congo - to come to the United States to speak about their experiences and the need for greater investment in supporting women’s organisations in Congo.

13. Women and girls have a right to equal inheritance. In many of the countries where IRC works, women and girls do not have equal inheritance rights.

This means that when a man dies, widows and their children may be removed from their homes, or lose ownership of land they have worked hard to cultivate.

The IRC supports women’s local advocacy programmes in northern Kivu, DRC which focuses on inheritance, using this topic as a doorway to talk about other issues such as domestic violence and girls’ access to education.

14. Women and girls who are fleeing war must be protected while in transit. 

10 million girls and young women are estimated to have fled their homes because of war. They face increased threats of violence and exploitation while in transit and when seeking refuge in new countries.

On the Greek island of Lesbos, the IRC assists women who are travelling by themselves or with their children by providing expedited registration and securing safe accommodation. We work closely with partners to create women-only spaces and are setting up a transit camp in the North of the island that will include a safe space for women and girls.

15. When women and girl refugees are resettled they have a right to live free from violence in their new home countries. 

Every year, tens of thousands of refugees fleeing violence and persecution resettle in the United States. Refugee and immigrant women face particularly high risks of gender-based violence, including domestic violence and sexual assault, during and after conflict, flight, displacement and resettlement.

The IRC has recently piloted a project called Bridge to Safety which includes instituting protocols for screening and responding to domestic violence and sexual assault into our existing work resettling refugees in 26 cities across the US.

16. Girls everywhere have a right to their own future – they have the right to pursue the future of their choosing and to have the space to craft their own dreams.

In places where the IRC works, while a boy’s world begins to expand during adolescence, the world for a girl begins to shrink and she becomes increasingly isolated. Girls are rarely asked what they want for their future, and instead their lives are mapped out by others.

The IRC’s Vision not Victim programme works with girls to create images that show their incredible power and aspirations. These images are shared with the community and used to spark dialogue about the equality of girls and the need to invest in their future.

The next weeks are a time to reenergise our efforts in supporting women and girls in humanitarian crises. Take a stand. Join us.