By Georgia May
“Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, public health pandemic and serious obstacle to sustainable development. It imposes large-scale costs on families, communities and economies. The world cannot afford to pay this price.” — Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General.
The 25 November marked the International Day for Violence Against Women (White Ribbon Day). The Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA), along with Bawso, Welsh Women’s Aid, Llamau, New Pathways, Safer Wales and Unite the Union organised the ‘Light the Candle’ event in Llandaff, Cardiff. The United Nations made it an official day in 1999, and it marks the start of 16 days of activism against gender based violence, with the aim to raise awareness and invite change. However, a large limitation to the efforts of preventing violence against women is the lack of funding. So, the ‘Light a Candle’ event aimed to raise awareness through a march from Cathedral Road to Llandaff Cathedral, with the Light a Candle Service in the cathedral aiming to promote the cause further with really interesting talks from courageous survivors of violence, as well as speeches from key note speakers who gave us all more insight as to how Wales deals with this issue. Lastly, the fundraiser aimed to raise money for the cause.
The day started early, with the march commencing at 9am from Llandaff offices on Cathedral Road. The turn-out was impressive, with many organisations in attendance, along with members of the public showing their support for the cause. When talking to the participants before the march, the main reason for wanting to get involved seemed to be to show solidarity against violence against women, but also violence as a whole. This displays so much promise, because if there are people willing to put themselves out there and express their opinions then the elimination of such horrendous acts should be a quicker process, as there are more people who will stand together on this issue. Prior to the start of the march, signs were also distributed with strong messages- mine said “Break the Silence” in big, bold writing- which really worked well to promote the cause.
The march began and we were ready with our signs, and our chant “zero tolerance to domestic violence,” which really turned heads as we made our way to the cathedral. Whilst on our march, we were clearly gathering support from the public, with many cars beeping and waving us along on our way. I asked some marchers how this made them feel, and they said that they were quite touched as it showed that there can be collective support among different groups of people. I agree with this, being a part of the march and getting backing from those not participating did motivate me more. This suggests that if we all have the same attitude towards the issue, we will have a stronger way of eliminating violence against women.
Our march came to an end when we arrived at Llandaff Cathedral, where we had a moment of silence to reflect on the women and girls who have lost their lives to violence. This was a surreal moment as it reinforced what we had been marching for.
Once in the cathedral, the Bishop introduced the event and placed importance on working together to eliminate violence against women. This really should be the main idea to take from the day as one of the most important strategies. Then, Aisha Kigwalilo who is a member of Bawso Youth Network, performed to start the service.
Carl Sargeant was the first key note speaker, and with his years of experience in the National Assembly for Wales, he gave an insightful talk on Wales’ stance on violence against women and girls, which particularly linked to his current role as cabinet Secretary of State for Committees and Children. His talk expressed the zero tolerance that Wales has towards violence against women and about the sense of responsibility that citizens have to raise awareness and work together to try and prevent this.
Next, Alimatu Dimonekene, a campaigner against the harmful practice of Female Genital Mutilation, spoke to the audience. As a survivor of the practice, her talk was a privilege to listen to as it showed us the effects of violence against women on those who have been subjected to such horrible acts. She stressed her lack of choice in the matter and how it was something that she did not totally understand at the time. I think that this is something that needs to be tackled. Many girls within the cultures where FGM takes place are not educated as to why this is happening to them or the effects. This is why days such as this are important, as we need to raise awareness so that girls understand that violence happening to them is not okay. The audience clearly had so much respect for Dimonekene, which was lovely to see as it only emphasises the sense of collective that we went to establish.
The next speaker was Rhian Bowen-Davies, who is the National Adviser for Violence against Women, other forms of Gender based Violence, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence. This post is innovative as it is the first of its type in the UK, demonstrating that Wales are really committed to The Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015. With Bowen-Davies’ purpose to aid the pursuance of this legislation, she offered real insight into female based issues in Wales in particular. She used her experiences to come to the conclusion that not just women should stand together to fight this issue, but that we should approach this as a collective society.
Afterwards, a number of faith leaders from different religious groups- Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam- then took some time to speak on the issue. It was amazing to see a sense of solidarity amongst the groups in wanting to eradicate violence against women. This is promising as it goes to show that it really is becoming a shared opinion among very diverse communities.
The service ended with interactive songs from Laura Bradshaw, which got the audience involved, as well as concluding remarks from the priest.
The next and last part of the day was the lunch at Llandaff Rugby Club to raise money to support women affected by violence with no recourse to public funds. Although I could not stay for this event for long, the atmosphere felt very positive, which certainly motivated people to give to the cause.
Overall, the day was a success, raising both awareness and money for the cause. The main thing that I think everyone took from the day was that we must stand together in order to eliminate not only violence against women, but gender based violence altogether. It seems clear that we have already made massive progress in terms of campaigning efforts, and the fact there is a mutual stance on the issue among various social groups means that efforts will only increase, which is something positive to take from something as awful as gender-based violence.