Imagine living in a world where half of the population lives in fear of experiencing violence, just because of their gender. Well, you don't have to stretch the limits of your imagination too far because that’s the world we currently live in.
Our world is one in which, according to UN Women, being a woman means you are more likely to be a target of sexual harassment in the form of unwelcome sexual remarks, catcalling, and gestures in public spaces on a daily basis.
It’s also a world in which women fear being followed on their way home. A world in which 1 in 3 women have been subjected to physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both, at least once in their lives.
It’s a world in which being a girl means your bodily autonomy can be taken away — whether that’s through harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or a lack of access to abortion options or other fundamental parts of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).
Despite some progress being made in recent years to tackle gender-based violence (GBV) against women in the form of the global #MeToo movement and an uptick in governments adopting feminist foreign policies, sexual harassment and other forms of violence against women and girls in public spaces are still often neglected, with few laws or policies in place to prevent and address them, according to UN Women.
While such violent and unwelcomed acts can happen on streets, in and around transportation, schools, workplaces, public toilets, and parks, GBV isn’t restricted to public spaces. In 2022, around 48,800 women and girls worldwide were killed by their intimate partners or other family members, meaning that, on average, more than 133 women or girls were killed every day by someone in their own family.
This reality of GBV is that it reduces women and girls’ freedom of movement; it reduces their ability to participate in school, work, and public life; it limits their access to essential services and their enjoyment of cultural and recreational activities; and negatively impacts their health and well-being.
The current trend of GBV and femicide is a stark reminder of the scale of gender inequality and discrimination against women and girls. Here are eight women-led organizations taking a stand against gender-based violence and working to keep women and girls safe around the world.
1. Sistah Space (UK)
Sistah Space is a UK-based award-winning community-based charity focused on supporting women of African and Caribbean heritage who are affected by domestic and sexual abuse in the UK with one-on-one support, group counseling, help for survivors to understand their rights, and connecting them to services and support networks.
Ngozi Fulani founded Sistah Space in 2015 in response to the murder of Valerie Forde and her 22-month-old daughter by Forde's ex-partner in 2014.
The Metropolitan Police were heavily criticized for their failure to investigate the abuse Forde suffered after it was revealed that six weeks before she was killed, she had reported that her ex-partner had threatened to burn down her house with her and her child inside it. The police had recorded this as a threat made to property, rather than a threat to Forde's life.
This tragic incident led to Sistah Space advocating for Valerie's Law, a law that would mean mandatory cultural awareness training for the police and other agencies in the UK, with the aim of supporting Black women who are victims of domestic and sexual violence.
In the UK, Black women and other ethnic minority women who are at risk of domestic homicide face additional barriers in accessing support that could mean the difference between life and death.
In addition, a report from the Centre for Women’s Justice and Imkann, titled “Life or Death” found that Black women and other ethnic minority women seeking adequate support from the police fear to or fail to due to various reasons including: a lack of trust when making a report, language barriers, lack of wider support network, pressure from family and community not to report abuse, fear of racial stereotyping, and victims’ information being shared to immigration officials.
Sistah Space announced on social media that it will be opening a specialist refuge for Black women affected by domestic abuse – a first in the UK.
2. Kwanele South Africa (South Africa)
The rate of violence against women and girls in South Africa is among the highest in the world. The country’s rates of intimate partner violence are five times the global average and the country has the fourth-highest rate of interpersonal violence-related femicide in the world.
Poverty and patriarchal norms have been seen as barriers to implementing measures to tackle gender-based violence in South Africa.
Kwanele South Africa, an award-winning non-profit organization, is on a mission to put an end to this by providing any survivor of GBV access to support and justice through innovative technology and data-informed reporting. Kwanele South Africa’s was founded by Leonora Tima in 2021 with the aim to create a tool that would give a voice to people in need.
“The system is rigged so that sexual abuse isn’t taken seriously, meaning that there will never be true justice – we’re on a mission to change that,” she writes.
Since the organization’s inception, it has defended more than 200 cases of GBV in South Africa. Kwanele also provides access to sexual and reproductive healthcare for women survivors through access to abortion services and other services.
In 2022, the charity launched its mobile app “Kwanele” as a support resource that can ensure survivors get fast access to emergency services and support with the click of a button, speak to first responders on a live chat, track evidence in real-time, and safely store key information. The Kwanele app also provides a step-by-step guide for survivors to get through the process of laying a charge and getting a conviction.
3. Djirra (Australia)
According to a 2018 report from Our Watch titled “Changing The Picture,” Aboriginal women are nearly 11 times more likely to die from assault than non-Aboriginal women. The report also found that 3 in 5 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have experienced physical or sexual violence perpetrated by a male intimate partner. Additionally, the report also found an increase in hospitalization rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women due to family violence-related assault.
Djirra is an Aboriginal community-managed organization that provides holistic, culturally sensitive, legal, and non-legal support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are experiencing or have experienced domestic or family abuse.
Djirra was founded in 2002 by Antoinette Braybrook and designs and delivers crucial early intervention and prevention programs based on community needs, as well as working towards reforming policies and laws to enhance access to justice, promote the resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, and reduce their vulnerability to violence.
4. Cheer Up Luv (UK)
A 2021 UN Women report found that 71% of women of all ages in the UK had experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space. That number rose to 86% among 18-24-year-olds.
Cheer Up Luv is an award-winning photography and interview series and platform founded by photographer, curator, tutor, speaker, and activist Eliza Hatch. The platform and photo series retells accounts of public sexual harassment from surviors’ points of view.
The photo series project combines photography with journalism, activism and social media, aiming to tackle sexual harassment and misogyny.
In an effort to empower survivors of public sexual harassment, survivors are photographed in the public places associated with their experience, in order to help them reclaim this space.
The photo series has been exhibited in Colombo, Warsaw, New York, Berlin, Bristol, Oxford, and London. A partnership with the United Nations Population Fund in 2018 saw it win the Webby for Best Individual Editorial Feature.
Since its creation in 2017, Cheer Up Luv has expanded from a simple photo series into a multimedia platform which includes a podcast, art, design, workshops, lectures, and a safe space for discussions around misogyny and sexism.
5. Safe Campus (France)
A 2022 UniSAFEsurvey looking at GBV at research organizations and universities across Europe, found that women and non-binary students were 66% and 74% more likely than men to experience GBV respectively.
Enter Safe Campus, an organization that aims to reduce gender-based and sexual violence in higher education institutions in France.
Safe Campus uses a three-step approach when tackling GBV at university campuses. The approach involves working on improving or setting up reporting protocols and ensuring there is staff at hand to deal with reports of GBV. The approach also includes working with and training university staff to support students who have been victims of assault on campus through talking sessions and raising awareness among students.
The founder of Safe Campus, Marine Dupriez, established the organization in 2019 after having observed numerous cases of GBV and sexism while studying at a top French business school.
6. Beity (Tunisia)
Tunisia experiences alarming rates of violence against women. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, in 2021, the Tunisian police registered nearly 69,000 complaints of violence against women and girls. The report also mentioned that the real magnitude of domestic violence against women in the country is difficult to measure, in part due to poor data collection as well as the social and economic pressure on women to tolerate violence.
In 2017, Tunisia’s parliament made history by passing the law on Eliminating Violence Against Women and Girls. This law aimed to eliminate physical, moral, sexual, economic, and political forms of violence against women in the Middle East and North Africa and introduced progressive prevention, protection, and prosecution provisions, and ensured survivors’ access to appropriate services, according to Human’s Right Watch.
However, despite this landmark law being passed in Tunisia, women living in the North African country continue to face an uphill struggle to obtain justice and ensure their personal safety.
The Tunisian non-profit association Beity is on a mission to fight all forms of discrimination and violence against women. The organization has successfully helped thousands of Tunisian women out of situations in which their safety and dignity have been compromised. The organization operates through three primary structures, namely a daycare unit, shelter, and vocational training facility. The organization's strategy prioritizes the uniqueness of each individual and their personal rights, ensuring that victims receive the help they need.
7. Abaad (Lebanon)
A report by UN Women Lebanon, titled “Gender Alert on Missing Women and Girls in Lebanon’s Humanitarian Crisis, What We Know So Far” found that incidents of violence against women and girls, including domestic violence in Lebanon, increased during the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns over a three year-period from 2019 to 2021.
ABAAD is a UN-accredited organization based in Lebanon. Their primary focus is on achieving gender equality in the region by advocating for the development and implementation of policies and laws that enhance women's effective participation, using a rights-based approach.
ABAAD is made up of committed activists, lawyers, consultants, social workers, and researchers who explore creative approaches to achieve a fair society that is free from dominant male behaviors and violence against women in Lebanon.
In 2022, ABAAD ran a campaign called #NoShameNoBlame for 16 Days of Activism. The video campaign and series featured the imagery of women's laundry being hung out to dry and shared the stories of female survivors of sexual assault. The message aimed to convey that the stories of these survivors are not something we should hide or be ashamed of, just like we shouldn't hide our dirty laundry.
8. Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa — “May Our Daughters Return Home” (Mexico)
A report from Amnesty International found that in 2020 alone, 3,723 killings of women were registered in Mexico, of which 940 were investigated as femicide in the country’s 32 states.
Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa which translates as “May Our Daughters Return Home” is an organization that strives to fight against the ongoing problem of femicide in Mexico, and works towards advancing gender equality in the country, according to The Borgen Project.
Norma Andrade and Marisela Ortiz co-founded the organization in response to the 2001 femicide of Andrade’s own daughter, Lilia Alejandra. The organization also wants to bring awareness to the murders and disappearances of Mexican women in the State of Chihuahua.
Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa demands justice for women by focusing on returning the bodies of victims to their families for a proper burial as well as fighting to bring aggressors to justice.
In addition, the organization also provides legal guidance and social justice support for families whose daughters have disappeared and addresses both physical and mental health issues of affected family members.
Not only do Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa report human rights violations to the state government, but the organization also demands greater accountability from them. To achieve this, the organization urges the government to allocate more resources to support women who have been affected by femicide.