The 16 Days of Activism is an international campaign initiated by the UN in 2015 to galvanise action from governments, NGOs and the individual, on violence against women and girls (VAWG). FORWARD is a diaspora led NGO that has championed the rights of African women and girls for over 30 years, influencing policy and pioneering work to end female genital mutilation in the UK and Africa.
In response to the recent exposure of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry, FORWARD will be focusing our 16 Days of Activism campaign on the way in which agency and power is held by women. Movements such as #MeToo have brought media attention to the issue of VAWG and the realities of appalling jibes and assaults women experience on a daily basis. Our campaign is timely and very much needed. As a diaspora organisation, we recognise that conversations and experiences relating to Black women’s bodies do not exist in a vacuum; they exist at the intersection of race, feminism, religion and sexuality. As a result our lived experiences are heavily marginalised, misunderstood or dismissed altogether.
We believe it is important to have representations of women owning their bodies as spaces of power; having autonomy over what they do with their bodies. In a world that seeks to fetishize Black bodies or label them as the ‘imperfect victim’, hence silencing our voices, we are backing the Black women who are saying ‘this is my body, this is my power’.
Watch this space to see a new image each day and hear directly from the women we’ve worked with for this campaign.
Day 16 – 10th December 2017 – Human Rights Day
“The whole idea of reclaiming your body and owning your body and sexuality is especially important for women, in particular young black girls. Our bodies have been brutalised so much throughout history by white supremacy so I think it’s important that we talk a lot about that with our daughters and sons. Not only is a Black body not up for consumption, it’s to be celebrated and to be praised.”
“Taking ownership of your body is important. I take ownership of every curve, every shape, and define the beauty of my body within myself. There is no set definition for beauty when it comes to a woman’s body”.
Day 15 – 9th December 2017
“I think it’s important for young girls to know their bodies are powerful because our bodies are the first space of power that we ever encounter, and I think it’s about security and knowing that you have ownership over your space. No one has the right to touch you, or to impact you in ways you don’t want. As young women in the world that we live in there are so many spaces where we are disempowered, and so to be strong and secure in your body is a very important thing.”
Day 14 – 8th December 2017
“I think it’s about time that young girls stand up together and break the western stereotype of beauty. Beauty is not defined by our status, size or complexion, it is defined by who we are, how we decide to look and how we make that come across. Our size does not define us, and we are beautiful and powerful whatever shape, size or colour that we are.”
Day 13 – 7th December 2017
‘My body my power’ means to me not being the world’s standard of beauty, and being my own. I myself am enough. I am the way that God intended and no one can take that away from me.”
Day 12 – 6th December 2017
“As Black women there’s a responsibility to look after other people; families, communities, friends. Even though that can be beautiful, we should make ourselves a priority too! We have a choice and it’s exercising that choice in everything that we do that’s important. We are not beholden to anybody or anything. Take space, practice self-care!”
Day 11 – 5th December 2017
“I think it’s really important for women to reclaim the power that comes with being a woman. Every day we live in a society where we are faced with people telling us what to wear and what is beautiful, according to the eye of the media. It’s important for a woman to find her internal strength and do what she feels like doing. I’m a walking example. I’m 5 foot 11, I’m ‘thick’, I’m not a ‘stereotypical’ female that fits into a box and that’s how I’m reclaiming my power- by owning that.”
Day 10 – 4th December 2017
“I’ve dealt with sexual harassment and you struggle to deal with it – but being surrounded by sisterhood helps. Overcoming cultural silence is good for healing by breaking through silence and speaking out in our communities. Not being silenced by patriarchal structures is important. Embody sisterhood and empathy.”
Day 9 – 3rd December 2017
“I use performance art to explore and celebrate my Black heritage. It’s important to spread knowledge on what it’s like to be a Black woman now and historically. It’s an effective way to show the oppression of Black beauty and negativity in the media.”
Day 8 – 2nd December 2017
“Love yourself unconditionally and live fearlessly with all your mind, body and soul. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Day 7 – 1st December 2017
“It’s important that we don’t divide ourselves in terms of who wears what, or who looks like what, because the ideas we have amongst ourselves, the ones that segregate us, are a result of the common male influences and misogyny women experience There is a lack of empathy in communities – in terms of religion, in how we look, in terms of our preferences. Empathy is something we need to lean on; without empathy we can’t succeed.”
Day 6 – 30th November 2017
“I think for a long time I was part of the problem because I was scared to speak out. I didn’t recognise things for what they were- harassment, abuse- I thought that was just the way things were and I accepted it. Now I feel like it’s important for everyone to take a stand against the small and the big stuff- from physical sexual abuse to catcalling. It’s important to reclaim your body by saying; ‘this is mine, you will not manipulate it, abuse it, or use it for your own pleasures.”
Day 5 – 29th November 2017
“I’m starting to reclaim my space on the tube. People sit next to you and crush you, getting up in your face or close to your body. So I’ve made it a point to tell people when I think they are encroaching on my personal space. And I try to be understanding…it’s the tube, but sometimes people feel like they can push their way through and because I’m kind of small, Black and a woman, they think I’m going to move out the way. Reclaiming my body and my space in this way is a small step I’m taking to exert my rights.”
Day 4 – 28th November 2017
“People are always making decisions that affect us & being Black women, we have the double burden of race & gender. It’s important to recognise our bodies as spaces of power like any political forum or board. A place where we can make decisions for & by ourselves”
Day 3 – 27th November 2017
“It’s important for us to reclaim our bodies because we don’t owe them to anyone else, they are ours. We don’t have to make excuses for the actions of other people. When we feel uncomfortable, we feel uncomfortable.”
Day 2 – 26th November 2017
“My body & mind are my strength. I believe in solidarity, empathy & compassion. It’s how you show your power & empower others. Women of all backgrounds need to remember that bodily autonomy is not given to us & cannot be taken from us. It’s something we own.”
Day 1 – 25th November 2017 – The International Day to Eliminate Violence against Women
“As a makeup artist I try to encourage young girls that they don’t need to have layers of makeup. Society needs campaigns like this, especially for young black women. You don’t need to be who society wants you to be, you need to be who you are.”