16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence 

The 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence is an international campaign that commences on 25 November—the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women—and ends on 10 December, Human Rights Day. Originally created by activists, it continues to be coordinated each year by the Center for Women's Global Leadership.

The UN supports this civil society-led campaign through the “United Nations Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women Campaign (UNiTE)”. The UNiTE campaign utilizes the colour orange to represent a brighter future, free from violence against women and girls, as a unifying theme running through all of its global activities.

Orange the World

The involvement of all stakeholders in the mobilization against violence against women, especially in the current context of the COVID pandemic, is essential. This year, the theme set by the Secretary General’s UNiTE campaign was Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect, with a focus on gender-based violence (GBV) in the context of COVID-19.

Our office worked alongside and supported the media to promote campaigns, including on social networks, and awareness-raising sessions for the general public or target groups. The objective was to promote behavioural change by emphasizing positive masculinities and promoting gender equality norms in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to the lockdowns, services have been forced to define new working modalities to meet the specific needs and expectations of survivors, victims, and people at risk of gender-based violence. UN Human Rights worked with national and local actors to support victims and provide essential services, including the criminal justice system.

Finally, the COVID pandemic has highlighted the need for GBV development programmes to respond to the real and expressed needs of women and girls, which is possible through data collection and flexible funding that prioritizes GBV prevention in the COVID-19 budgetary stimulus packages for women’s organizations. Through its’ human rights monitoring mandate, as well as its’ advocacy work towards duty bearers, UN Human Rights advocated for a rights-based approach, which is central to ensuring these imperatives.

Global Events/Calls

On 25 November 2020, our office organized a series of events to launch the 16 Days Campaign under the theme fund, prevent, and respond, collect.

To mark the 16 Days of Activism, High Commissioner Bachelet participated in an inter-agency joint video statement featuring the UN system commitment to address GBV in the context of COVID, which was released at the UN official commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. See coverage on Twitter in English and Español.

Watch the Interagency joint video statement on GBV in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic on YouTube.

UN Human Rights, WHO and Oxford Human Rights Hub released a video on VAW and the SDGs. It promotes the use of human rights-based tactics to address violence against women and drive meaningful progress in the fulfilment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

See more on UN Human Rights' Facebook page.

On 8 March 2021, on the occasion of International Women’s Day under the theme “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”, the President of the Human Rights Council said that reflecting on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women, especially the victims of unreported abuse and violence was key.

In her statement, High Commissioner Bachelet restated her call for the protection of women survivors, especially those belonging to marginalized and discriminated groups, who are among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 17 March 2020, the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and UN Human Rights organized a High-level panel at the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. The high-level panel took stock of the work of the EDVAW Platform and its links with the Commission on the Status of Women, and called for the Commission to promote a human rights based approach in the implementation of strategies for ending violence and discrimination against women, particular in the current pandemic context.

Highlights from the field

Regional Office for Southern Africa

On 8 March 2021, in commemoration of International Women’s Day, UN Human Rights released an advocacy brief highlighting the situation of women in southern Africa with respect to COVID-19 and the right to participation. The brief draws on the human rights obligations of States in the region and is aligned with the UN Secretary-General’s policy brief on the impact of COVID-19 on women. The brief was shared widely, including with the Resident Coordinators in the region, with the aim of contributing to ongoing discussions on the importance of women’s participation in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.

Regional Office for Eastern Africa

On 6 March 2021, the UN Human Rights gender team, in collaboration with the Ethiopia Youth and Cultural Development Association and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, jointly convened a half-day conference aimed at showcasing the work of women leaders in Ethiopia and offering a platform for discussion on women and girls’ role on building back better. The conference included a panel discussion among students from four high schools in Addis Ababa on the impact of COVID-19 on girls’ access to education, followed by two presentations on gender equality and education and impact of COVID-19 on domestic violence.  

Regional Office for South America

In Latin America, UN Women and UN Human Rights attended the 60th meeting of the Presiding Officers of the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean held virtually from 23 to 25 February, 2021. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) organized the conference during which ministers reported on the progress of the "Santiago Commitment" in the context of COVID-19. They also supported the incorporation of a gender perspective in policies to respond to the pandemic that overcome violence and inequality affecting women. Participants finally reaffirmed their commitment to accelerate the implementation of CEDAW, the Beijing Declaration, and Platform for Action and the Regional Gender Agenda; and agreed to promote a regional Alliance for the digitization of women in Latin America and the Caribbean.


On 12 February 2021, UN Human Rights jointly with UNFPA organized an online seminar for 16 representatives of national CSOs and practicing lawyers on the impact of COVID-19 on women’s rights and gender equality. The seminar aimed at raising the awareness of participants of the guiding documents and statements issued by UN Human Rights and CEDAW on heightened risks of gender-based violence (GBV) and discrimination faced by women due to the COVID-19 crisis. UN Human Rights provided the participants with an overview of promising practices and actions recommended by UN Human Rights, CEDAW and UN Special Procedures mandate holders for addressing heightened risks of exposure to GBV and for upholding the rights of women and girls in times of COVID-19 pandemic. UNFPA and UN Human Rights also presented the findings of a rapid gender assessment (RGA) recently conducted by UNFPA and UN Women to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on gender equality.


The Office made a social media post on Media Education and fight against GBV and COVID

See the post to UN Human Rights Central Africa Office Facebook page

Democratic Republic of the Congo

On 16 March 2021, the UN Joint Human Rights Office organized a workshop to mark international women's day in Kinshasa. Its objective was to reflect on the situation of women in the DRC, to raise public awareness on women's rights, discuss possible challenges in the face of the pandemic of COVID-19, ways to advance women's rights and curb physical and mental violence against women.


UN Human Rights launched a campaign on challenging toxic masculinities, and preventing violent behaviour, including in the COVID pandemic context.

Watch the podcast


The Guinea Office organized an exchange session with civil society on their role in addressing GBV and COVID with the Head of the Office and civil society representatives.


On 17 March, UN Human Rights Mauritania participated to a workshop on "Women's leadership for an equal future in a world marked by COVID -19". This workshop was organized by the NHRC with the support of the UN Human Rights Mauritania to benefit the Network of Local Elected Women Section of Mauritania (REFEAL). During this workshop, the office raised some issues, including women's leadership in Mauritania that lacked visibility and the impact of COVID-19 on women's leadership. UN Human Rights Mauritania made some recommendations to give visibility to the commitment of women, maintain the gains in the field of women's rights, and the involvement of women to meet the many challenges faced in Mauritania.


On 8 March, at the occasion of the International Women’s Day, UN Human Rights had a joint conference-debate with UN Women (Spotlight initiative) around the theme “Women’s leadership: for an equal future in a COVID-19 world." This event allowed different actors of the Nigerien civil society to take stock of elimination of GBV, women’s political participation, and the achievements in terms of gender equality and women's empowerment. 

Russia Federation

On 11 March, the UN Human Rights team in Russia, the Moscow city Ombudsman and the Forum of Moscow Women organized a round table discussion on "Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world" devoted to the International Women’s Day. Participants focused on the leading role of women who are at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19 regressive effects in different areas including health care, social protection, education, labour, access to information and countering domestic violence. Ms. Dalia Leinarte, member of the CEDAW Committee, made a presentation about "Women and political leadership: old challenges, new directions". WHO Director Dr. Melita Vujnovic spoke about the lessons of the pandemic to improve the quality of medical and social assistance. Other participants included UN agencies in Russia (WHO, UNIC, ILO, UNHCR), the speaker and deputies of the Moscow city parliament, the Minister of social protection of the Moscow city government, members of the Federation Council, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, women human rights defenders, civic activists, representatives of the business community and members of the academia.


On 24 March, UN Human Rights delivered a statement at an online roundtable of the parliamentary human rights committee on “Ensuring gender equality during the COVID-19 pandemic”, involving members of Parliament, public authorities, and international organizations. The statement covered the impact of the pandemic on the human rights of women, in particular Roma women, homeless women, and women with disabilities, as well as the situation of women who represent the majority of healthcare workers, and women human rights defenders.


UN Human Rights (UN Mission in Iraq) pursued its advocacy and awareness-raising campaign on human rights and COVID-19. Latest cartoon by an Iraqi artist was released on 6 and 7th March, and can be found on UNAMI’s Facebook page. This follows a series of messages posted on social media during the previous 16 Days Campaign


In Syria, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, tweeted a message to launch the 16 Days Campaign.


Launch by High Commissioner


Sabah Al Hallak on the dependence of peace on women’s inclusion

Amber Heard on no longer accepting silence & injustice

Marie Laguerre on the #noustoutesharcelement movement against sexual violence

Alyssa Milano on the #MeToo movement and the need for women to keep raising their voices