Four ACEVO members talk to Heloisa Righetto about what #HearMeToo means for them

Every year, 25 November marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. On this date, the UN launches the 16 Days of Activism, running until Human Rights Day on 10 December. During these 16 days, a multitude of events celebrating organisations and individuals working in this area are planned, drawing together leaders from civil society, public and private sectors from all over the world. The theme is #HearMeToo, and organisations are also using the colour orange to represent their striving for a brighter future where women and girls worldwide are free from all forms oppression.

As #HearMeToo encourages dialogue and a wider commitment from all sectors to this vital cause, we’ve asked four ACEVO members working in the women’s sector to tell us  what their organisations will be doing for the 16 days and which leaders inspire them.

Naomi Dickson (@soldier_in_slip), CEO of Jewish Women’s Aid, told us: “It’s a key day in our calendar where we aim to engage people inside and outside of our sector. We co-ordinate a day of action for ourselves and other local domestic abuse service providers at a London shopping centre where we use our stall as our shop window – we engage with the public to raise awareness about domestic abuse. Most importantly, this multi-pronged campaign encourages community leaders to speak out about domestic abuse and talk publicly about it, with the aim of encouraging women who need, to come forward for support as soon as they need.”

Leeds Women’s Aid, which is currently celebrating 45 years since it opened the first women’s refuge outside of London and is one of the only refuges in the country that allows families with male children up to the age of 18, has a newly funded ‘sensory room’ for children and their families to relax and learn in a stress-free environment. The organisation is engaging with the 16 days  to support fundraising for its vital Christmas service provision. CEO Nik Peasgood (@nikpeasgood) explains:

“We have launched a Christmas Card Appeal to help raise additional funds for our services over the festive period. We are asking our supporters to help fund our support services by making a donation to our charity instead of sending Christmas cards. Donations can be made via our online appeal page.”

Nik also talked about the fact that #HearMeToo exists to raise awareness regarding the different ways women and girls can experience gender-based violence. She explains: “Most women at risk of homicide will experience controlling and coercive behaviour, rather than obvious physical violence. Violence against women and girls includes domestic, sexual and honour based violence, forced marriage, stalking and harassment, coercive and controlling behaviour, female genital mutilation, modern slavery and trafficking.”

Janet Dalrymple, CEO of Safer Places, told us that the organisation is holding a major publicity and awareness drive across Essex and Hertfordshire, where it provides support services in the community and safe accommodation for women, children and men who are victims of domestic abuse. The organisation’s staff is also contributing to events with community safety partners in various areas, from manning stands and being available to provide information in town halls and supermarkets to speaking at conferences arranged to coincide with the 16 days. She adds: “We are going to be talking about coercive control and also stalking which is a particularly dangerous component of ongoing domestic abuse where relationships have come to an end.”

Sarah Hill, CEO of IDAS, explains that IDAS will be taking a creative approach, and “will be marking 25 November and the following 16 days of activism with a number of local awareness raising initiatives including a travelling art installation of 100 pairs of women’s shoes.  This is a shout out to the ‘in her shoes’ theme and in recognition of the 100 women who were murdered by their partner / ex-partner in the UK over the last year.”

Another objective of #HearMeToo is acknowledging the work of women leaders against gendered violence, honouring their leadership in driving for change. We asked the leaders we approached to tell us about who inspired them. Naomi said she has been inspired by Polly Neate (@pollyn1),  currently CEO of Shelter and formerly CEO of Women’s Aid, describing her as “engaging, inspiring and decisive whilst also being great company, and she is fearless when it comes to speaking out against injustice.” Nik highlighted the work of Suzanne Jacob OBE (@SuzanneEJacob), CEO of SafeLives, who has “driven its new strategy to end domestic violence for good”.

The CEOs we spoke to also highlighted the importance of public figures like Emma Watson taking a highly visible position on gendered violence and women’s rights. Sarah reminded us of the outstanding contributions made by women leading every day in their communities;  beyond prominent positions of leadership. “There are so many inspirational women quietly working away in the specialist sectors making a difference to women and families locally by providing refuge accommodation, support for victims of sexual violence and by speaking out for domestic abuse victims”.

Janet remembers the “incredible courage” of Christine Blasey Ford, who was recently in the spotlight for speaking out against the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh “in the full knowledge that she would face a tsunami of abuse and doing so anyway even though the impact of her actions if successful would do little to address her personal trauma but potentially much to change the environment in which other women and girls are trying to make their way.”

Writer, academic and civil rights campaigner Maya Angelou is also a source of inspiration for Janet. Among many timeless quotes that will resonate with activists and feminists for decades to come, Janet highlights one that is pertinent to the work done by Safer Places: “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

This is the first in a series of two blogs looking to recognise #HearMeToo. Next week we will be asking these leaders what other civil society leaders could and should be doing to promote gender equality.

Follow #HearMeToo on social media to know more about what organisations are doing across the globe.

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