A Day and Night at The Tower of London
The Tower of London, officially Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, is a castle steeped in history located on the north bank of the River Thames in central London. And it was here that I was lucky enough to spend a beautiful day on the 25th November, exploring some of London's hidden histories before attending a Gala Dinner hosted by the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women.
The 25th November is the launch day of the annual 16 days of activism for this campaign.
The event was attended by a number of groups and individuals who are making a difference to the lives of women and girls around the world. It was an evening to raise funds for the cause, raise further awareness, network amongst like minded people, and above all to "friend raise". It was a night to #drawaline against violence.
Aldijana Sisic, the Chief of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women gave a rousing speech at the event, acknowledging that the evening was not just about raising funds (albeit that is important and much needed), but also about making new friends, working together with existing friends, and being active friends to women and girls around the world who are in need of our help. The night was certainly a wonderful way to "friend raise" and achieve this.
For example, in our project in Peru, we give young girls trapped in domestic service the skills to stand up to domestic violence and the opportunity to gain literacy skills which mean they have a chance to gain alternative employment over time. In our projects based in Kenya many girls are expelled from their homes, sometimes due to becoming pregnant as a result of rape, and have no way of supporting themselves or their child; funds from Shoes by Shaherazad mean that these young girls can gain skills to earn a living for themselves and live a life free from violence and extreme poverty.
The United Nations Campaign
The UNiTE campaign is a multi-year effort aimed at preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls around the world. It calls on governments, civil society, women’s organisations, young people, the private sector, the media and the entire UN system to join forces, and even to "friend raise" in addressing the global pandemic of violence against women and girls.
The campaign builds on existing international legal and policy frameworks, and works to synergise the efforts of all United Nations offices and agencies working to end violence against women. It sets out key outcomes to be achieved in all countries, some of which are:
- Adoption and enforcement of national laws to address and punish all forms of violence against women and girls, in line with international human rights standards.
- Adoption and implementation of multi-sectoral national plans of action that emphasise prevention and are adequately resourced.
- Establishment of data collection and analysis systems, on the prevalence of various forms of violence against women and girls.
- Establishment of national and/or local campaigns and the engagement of a diverse range of civil society actors in preventing violence and in supporting women and girls who have been abused.
- Systematic efforts to address sexual violence in conflict situations and to protect women and girls from rape as a tactic of war, and the full implementation of related laws and policies.
Violence against women is rooted in discrimination and inequality, making it challenging to address. Men and women who have not had opportunities to question gender roles, attitudes and beliefs, cannot easily change them. Women who are unaware of their rights cannot easily claim them. Governments and organisations without access to standards, guidelines and tools cannot adequately address these issues.
Once evidence accumulates and awareness grows, the potential for stopping all forms of violence does too.
And this, very clearly, is why we must all stand tall and stand together, to end violence against women and girls. To eradicate it completely.
The Speakers at UN "The Friend Raiser"
One of the opening speeches on the night was given by Zeinab Badawi, an award winning UK broadcaster with a Sudanese heritage. Zeinab is best known for programmes such as the BBC's Hard Talk and Global Questions. She opened her speech by calling for 100% eradication of violence against women and girls and shared her frustration that there are many people that need convincing that this is even possible. "No amount of violence against women is acceptable," she said. "How can it be legitimate to set a target of 70%, 80% or 90%? An improvement alone is not good enough. We need total elimination of this violence."
HRH Princess Eugenie of York was equally inspiring when she called on the attendees to draw a line and stand up for human rights. "Every woman has the right to a life of safety." The Princess spoke of her passion for the work of William Wilberforce who was an English politician, philanthropist, and a key leader of the movement to stop the slave trade. It was her inspiration that lead her to start a new initiative called The Anti-Slavery Collective which seeks to shine a light on modern slavery as a global epidemic.
Other equally inspiring speakers were:
Gabriella Wright, actor and activist who dramatically gave a speech through the eyes of a woman who had taken the brave step of standing up against violence against herself and her daughter. Sarah Ikumu, singer and Britain's Got Talent winner who sang about bravery and empowerment and received a standing ovation. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Executive Director of UN Women who gave a clear direction on what we must do next and my personal favourite speaker of the night was Jo Froggatt, actor in acclaimed shows such as Downton Abbey, Starfish and Liar.
Jo told the story of a woman who had experienced Female Genital Mutilation, and who had taken the brave step of protecting one of her daughters from the traditional cutting which her first daughter had been subjected to. It was a painful story which ended with hope and an urgent directive to support women and girls around the world. Jo's speech was met with rapturous applause and inspired tears of hope for peace across the audience.
Female Genital Mutilation is the partial or complete removal of external female genitalia for non medical reasons. It is mostly carried out, without anaesthetic, on girls between infancy and age fifteen. FGM has zero health benefits and often results in lifelong health problems, increased risks during childbirth, psychological trauma, and even death.
Often rationalised as a rite of passage into womanhood, in reality FGM is an extreme form of violence used to control girls’ and women’s sexuality. It involves a mixture of cultural and social traditions associated with preparing for adulthood and marriage, and ideals of community, modesty and fidelity. Most instances occur in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, but FGM is also practiced in Australia, Europe, Latin America, New Zealand and North America. The practice is deeply rooted in inequality as it asserts that girls must be cut in order to assure their future husbands of their chastity. There are many horrific instances of girls being cut and then sewn up, with their husbands then ripping them open with a knife on their wedding night causing unbearable pain, infection and sometimes even death. This violent practice must stop.
The Honorary Host Committee for the campaign are also lending the influence of their names to end violence. This includes Dame Judi Dench, Cynthia Erivo, David Schwimmer, Forest Whitaker, Julia de Boinville, Mary Harvey, Sienna Miller and Tilda Swinton.
Orange the World
There was lots of the colour orange visible at the event, in attendees outfits, on the programmes, and even in the decorations. This is because the colour of the campaign is a bold and bright orange. UNiTE leads the 16 days of activism against gender based violence campaign. Those 16 days go from 25th November (the day of the Gala Event) to 10th December, which is Human Rights Day.
The orange theme reinforces the UNiTE Campaign’s commitment to a world free from violence for all women and girls around the world, while reaching the most underserved and marginalised women, including refugees, migrants, minorities, indigenous peoples, and populations affected by conflict and natural disasters. As in previous years, the campaign invites everyone to “Orange the World,” to symbolise a brighter future without violence.
Heels Doing Orange Deeds
The evening was truly inspiring, as is the entire campaign, and I was left feeling even more convinced that the work we are doing at Shoes by Shaherazad to empower women and girls is critical for a brighter, happier and fairer future. Aldijana's words will resonate with me for many years to come. I am now fully convinced that fund raising and friend raising go firmly hand in hand.
You can make a donation directly to the UN campaign by texting 447520635959 and your pledge amount.
You can also purchase any pair of our heels or clutch purse from this website; not only will you be treating yourself but 100% of the profits will go to empower women and girls via my partnership with GlobalGiving UK. Find out more about our good deeds here.
I am confident that we do not need miracles to change the world, we only need each other ..... (and a strong dash of orange!)
Shoe Empowerment Officer