Youth Advisory Board, Russian activist team up to combat gender-based violence

In 2012, Rashida Manjoo, then the UN special rapporteur on violence against women, called for a new global framework to address violence against women. Activists around the world heard this call and formed Every Woman Treaty, a unique and diverse coalition of scholars, lawyers, and frontline practitioners who are working to promote ratification of a global treaty to protect women and girls from violence. The organization represents 1,700 women’s rights advocates, including 840 organizations, in 128 countries worldwide.

Russian women’s rights activist and author Marina Pisklakova-Parker, a member of Every Woman Treaty and the subject of a Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ Speak Truth to Power lesson, is a major force in highlighting the need to eradicate violence against women around the world. She worked with RFK Human Rights’ Youth Advisory Board on the 30th annual 16 Days Campaign to end gender-based violence, coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership.

Below, members of RFK’s Youth Advisory Board (YAB) answer questions about their involvement this year’s campaign, which ran from November 25 to December 10, and why they are working to end violence against women.

Q: Why is the Every Woman Treaty needed?

A: Regional treaties, such as the Belém do Pará Convention in Latin America, the Maputo Protocol in Africa, and the Istanbul Convention in Europe, have proven effective, but three-quarters of the world’s population still do not receive sufficient protection. The vast majority of these women are Black and Brown.

Currently, the world invests just 11 cents per woman in curbing violence against women and girls, but this violence costs the world approximately $1,200 per female on earth, or more than $4 trillion, per year.

To date, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has only heard 18 cases of violence against women, 70 percent of which were from Canada or Europe. These regions represent just 10 percent of the world’s women.

Only through collective commitment and action will generations of women and girls be able to live free from violence.

Q: Why is the YAB addressing this issue?

As youth involved in the human rights space, we have grown up with the well-known declaration that women’s rights are human rights. Just in the past decade, we’ve seen an increase in the number of women who hold elected office and the rise of the #MeToo movement. But if we have learned anything in recent months, it’s that it would be naïve to take women’s rights for granted.

In numerous states, including Texas and Mississippi, we are seeing women’s rights to reproductive autonomy be significantly eroded.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban takeover has reversed progress for women’s liberty over the past couple of decades. We have yet to see the full extent of what this means for the right for women to attend school and to work, to be free from forced marriages, and to have freedom of movement.

During the pandemic, we’ve also seen an increase in domestic violence disputes as more people have been stuck at home.

Q: Why are you working with the Every Women Treaty coalition?

As young people, we are often excluded from decision-making (and public office); this leaves us with few avenues we can pursue to help advance human rights. In our training series this past spring on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals we learned that simply stating a broad goal of advancing the rights of women is not enough. In fact, it is the lack of specificity that has led the advancement of women to fall by the wayside. Protecting women from violence is a specific measure we can take to move the rights of women forward.

Q: Why did the YAB choose to get involved in the 16 Days Campaign?

As Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “the time is always right to do what is right,” but the recent uptick in domestic violence pushed this issue to the top of our agenda. We have all been inspired by the 16 Days Campaign and the work done by the members of Every Women Treaty, and we feel that with our resources and connections, we can have a tangible, positive impact in this space. We also recognize the power of young people in advocating for this specific cause, and that has contributed to our desire to become involved.

Marina Pisklakova-Parker has made tremendous strides in building a global movement to combat violence against women. We were honored to play a part in her work to mobilize youth during the campaign.

Q: What actions did YAB members take as part of the 16 Days Campaign, and how did Marina Pisklakova-Parker collaborate with your group?

In creating our December 4 panel event, the YAB sought to raise awareness about the issue of gender-based violence, featuring the perspectives of activists Nicolette Gamara and Immaculate Gwokyalya of the Every Woman Treaty coalition. Nicolette is a development and human rights worker in the Philippines who, prior to joining Every Woman, worked with the families of victims of drug war related extrajudicial killings to document cases, seek justice, and mobilize victim support. Immaculate is a volunteer at Improve the Youth Uganda, a nongovernmental youth-led organization that uses sports to reach out to help young people.

Both women spoke about what passing the treaty could mean to them, as well as how young people can mobilize in the final days of the campaign.

In accordance with the campaign’s effort to “create tools to pressure governments to implement commitments to eliminate gender-based violence against women,” we worked with Every Woman Treaty to create social media tools, specifically calling upon elected officials to heed the demands of the treaty and the ultimate goal of the 16 Days Campaign: to eliminate of all forms of gender-based violence against women. Our efforts were in large part inspired by Marina, who worked with us in planning our event. We also owe thanks to both Nicolette and Immaculate for speaking, and to Nicolette especially for her role in planning.