Project Citizen! …16 Days of Activism

Esther Armah

Act. Speak. Engage. Every year, 16 days of focused activity in pursuit of the elimination of gendered violence occurs. The UN has marked November 25th to December 10th for global focus on gender-based violence. 2020 makes this focus especially urgent.

2020 should end business as usual for our engagement around gender, and gendered violence. For 16 days of activism, beyond the scramble to develop programming, campaigns, events, a more profound approach is required.

Globally, COVID19 has elevated gender violence. Here in Ghana and across the world the spike in the statistics for such violence is cause for concern, but it also offers a call to engage and reimagine safe space, safe paths for survivors and a fresh focus on justice against the perpetrators.

Lockdown meant girls and women were locked in with violators. Paths of escape and avenues of safety were disappeared. There were increased numbers of teenage pregnancies in a number of the 16 regions in Ghana. Every statistic is a life, with promise, dreams, possibility, ambition and deserving of the fullest opportunity to realize each of those without the devastation of gendered violence and its legacy of untreated trauma to impact their future and impede progress.

With COVID19, the economy of labor has been a global focus. The devastation in loss of jobs, industries, has meant transformation is required and a reimagining of the world of work. There has been a global spike in domestic violence. What we must also engage and explore is the toll on emotional labor within community, within family. Lockdown elevated already existing pressures, and as the numbers show, triggered violence. Emotional labor is gendered, it is considered the work of women, it is almost always unpaid, unacknowledged – and yet within the time of COVID, it has elevated in ways as yet uncounted and it is a particular pressure.

2020’s 16 Days of Activism theme is ‘Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect. In Ghana, funding is a particular thorn. This emerges in 2 particular ways. Money can either stop or accelerate justice for girls and women, especially with sexual violence. In 2020, there have been headlines of parents or family members crying out for help to pay doctors’ fees in order to have reports released detailing medical injuries, so that a police report can be filed and the judicial path pursued. That there continues to be confusion, manipulation and exploitation on such a fundamental part of the path to justice is beyond an outrage. For those who exploit the ignorance of traumatized survivors and their families, there should be swift, stern consequences.  The pipeline to justice is consistently thwarted by the need to have money that survivors and their families just don’t have, halting an already fragile justice for gendered sexual violence. Having gender champions within political leadership means little if survivors must still chart such turbulent territory to get to court, or have access to judicial justice. It enables our data to inaccurately paint a picture of sexual and gendered based violence in Ghana. We are in the midst of a presidential campaign. That always becomes a time of swiftly completed projects, articulation of promises to build new projects, change policy, introduce policy, road revolution, and on and on. It is part of the 4-year presidential political dance.

Sustainable justice also means, for example, long-term funding of the Domestic Violence Fund so it can be used by those it was intended to serve. It means ongoing engagement and not sporadic action – too often in the form of events by the government designed to throw out the promise of change, but essentially continuing a practice of inaction.

Response. How we respond matters as much as that we respond. Welcome responses emerge via initiatives such as The ENOUGH! project. Led by Oxfam Ghana and Women in Law and Development Africa (WiLDAF), this project features Ghanaian organizations working to eliminate gender-based violence in multiple ways that include educating local communities around the law, developing support systems for survivors, working on ideas on masculinity that perpetuate violence, as well as engaging the media. The grassroots, deep in the community approach alongside working with government, law-makers and larger institutions offers a strong model for how a response can serve survivors, empower and educate communities, and develop sustainable change.  Another welcome response is *’THE SURVIVOR MONOLOGUES AFRICA’.

Justice on sexual gendered violence needs to go beyond the judicial kind. Survivors and their families also need Emotional Justice.

This is crucial because Emotional Justice centres the healing of the marginalized. It is a visionary framework that identifies how emotions contribute to shape and uphold systems that perpetuate injustice. It treats healing as an institutional practice understood in the context of histories of brutality, and their contemporary manifestations that shape our relationships to ourselves and each other. One part of the 4-pillar framework is ‘Emotional patriarchy’ – this is where systems and society cater to the feelings of men – their vulnerability, anger, sadness, hurt, pain – no matter the cost or consequence to society, to women, to progress. With gendered sexual violence where the perpetrators are men, it is their future, their pain, their world that is too often prioritized by community and by the agencies. This is not new, it is not news. It must change.

There is no going back to a pre-COVID normal. Ghana has been celebrated for her response to the COVID19 crisis. That is valid. What we must also measure, and respond to, is the spike in gendered violence. Too often the approach is to silence the stories, treat them as singular. That just conveys a filtered image, rather than reckoning with the commonality, and therefore exploring solutions that encompass the expanse of the issue.

2020’s theme for 16 Days of Activism is a roadmap. ‘Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect’ encapsulates the 4 action steps for sustainable change. It offers the specifics required to transform a society fraught with violence for too many girls and women, and an escalated violence due to COVID19.

The pandemic devastated, let it also accelerate an urgency in our approach to eliminating gendered violence. In Ghana, can it offer us possibility to reimagine justice around gendered violence, to engage at the root instead of revolving around the rhetoric? Can it be our call to a different kind of action – not one that gets louder because of an election, but because we acknowledge girls and women are citizens? And as citizensrequiring government’s full protection, representation, engagement, violence against them becomes a national issue requiring broader institutional response.

Citizen is not a gender. Gendered violence is happening to citizens. Let’s fund, act, respond accordingly.

THE SURVIVOR MONOLOGUES AFRICA is a drama project by The Armah Institute of Emotional Justice.  It centers the experience of survivors in pursuit of justice, and chronicling their experiences with doctors, lawyers, media and the police. It is designed to foster best practice among those agencies, enable survivors to be change agents, avoid retraumatizing survivors, and creating a multi-system training tool. It is a 5-year project in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and the Congo. It is the vision of The Armah Institute of Emotional Justice.

Esther Armah is Executive Director, The Armah Institute of Emotional Justice (The AIEJ), a global institute with headquarters in Accra. It provides equity education in the context of Race, Gender, Culture. We devise PROJECTS, TRAINING, THOUGHT LEADERSHIP using Emotional Justice – a visionary framework for racial and cultural healing. Website: Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @estherarmah

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