Worldwide, approximately 7 in 10 women report having experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes. 60 million girls are assaulted at or on their way to school every year, and 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not even considered a crime. Because violence against women affects every community and country worldwide, NYU Abu Dhabi students and the Office of Community Outreach decided to raise awareness of the issue by joining forces with the United Nations UNiTE Campaign to End Violence Against Women with the global call to “orange your neighborhood”. The campaign kicked off on November 25th, the International Day to End Violence Against Women.
Orange paper hands containing facts about gender-based violence were distributed across the campus, and posters featuring members of the NYUAD community informed people of the ways they could join the campaign, with a focus on five themes:
- Challenging stereotypes
- Speaking out to increase awareness
- Supporting and empathizing with survivors
- Embracing gender equality
- Engaging others in discussions
On December 3rd, members of the UNiTE campaign and volunteers from NYUAD’s Women’s Leadership Network set up in the windy central plaza to host an all-day event to bring awareness to the campaign. Throughout the day, NYUAD students performed dance, song, and poetry pieces inspired by our goal of ending violence against women. NYUAD sophomores Lauren Clingan (Class of 2017) and Sofia Gomez-Doyle (Class of 2017) contributed to the event by performing a dance piece to the song “We Are Here” by Alicia Keys. Gomez-Doyle, one of the co-organizers of the campaign, commented, “UNiTE was an important campaign because it helped to raise awareness about an issue of critical importance for both women and men. Most importantly, it offered students the chance to actively engage in conversation.”
In addition to watching the performance pieces, passerby and attendees were invited to add their own voices to the campaign by finishing this sentence: "I care about stopping violence against women because…" Over 150 community members added their voices, and most people found the prompt helpful. "It's just wrong," one person wrote. "Every person is equal, regardless of gender," another wrote. An 8 year-old girl scrawled, "You should be kind to everyone." Even though reasons for caring about the issue seem obvious, engaging our community in this conversation is a critical step to creating significant change.
The writing prompt encouraged people to reflect on their own personal attachment to the topic, but it also sparked a number of meaningful discussions about how to take action against violence. The responses we collected are a powerful testament to our community's willingness to engage with this issue both personally and academically. The statements, which were written on the orange hands, were strung between the palm trees of the central plaza, and they will be displayed in the Campus Center on December 10th, World Human Rights Day.
NYUAD sophomore Garreth Chan, one of the co-organizers of the campaign, remarked, “The UNiTE Campaign in NYUAD proved that the fight against gender-based violence knows no boundaries. At the event, fathers, professors, security guards, young children and students alike stopped to share their experiences and thoughts. The diversity of the audience brought us closer as a community towards a common cause. If anything, the campaign proved that equality should be universal, and our campaign is one of many steps towards that goal.”
As this campaign draws to a close, our hope is that UNiTE has started an ongoing discourse on campus about gender-based violence and equal human rights worldwide. When it comes to changing a culture of violence and aggression, we have to start with our own community. The UNiTE campaign promises to be just the start of an important and far-reaching dialogue.