Say Enough: Why dismantling patriarchal norms is more important than ever

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Blog by Victoria Stetsko, Alejandra Aguilar, Rebecca Shadwick, Oxfam’s Enough! campaign
Published: 2nd March 2021
Posted in: Gender justice

The Covid-19 pandemic has been called “the great equalizer”. However, the past twelve months made it clear that the most excluded, oppressed, and vulnerable groups, such as girls and women in all their diversity, have been disproportionately affected by its impact. How can we build a more equal and resilient world? Here are some lessons the Enough team has learnt from 4 years of campaigning on social norm change to end gender-based violence. Spoiler alert: we need to dismantle patriarchal norms.

We’ve had many opportunities to listen to feminist activists from over 30 countries – from Cuba to China to Papua New Guinea – while co-creating and implementing the “Enough!” campaign together. For more than four years we’ve been working to mobilize alongside young people who want to live in societies free from gender-based violence, to support them to take bold steps against the patriarchal norms that underpin such violence. The new reality induced by the pandemic of Covid-19 demonstrates the relevance of this collaboration.

The gendered effects of the pandemic were immediately evident. Surging numbers of gender-based violence have been reported in many countries which introduced lockdowns as measures to suppress the spread of the virus. Across the world women have been the first to lose their jobs, have shouldered the increased responsibilities of unpaid care work, and have encountered restricted access to sexual and reproductive health services. Those facing discrimination due to their age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, health conditions and migration status prior to the pandemic saw the risks and impact of social and economic exclusion multiplied. 

While the adverse effect on girls and women is truly alarming, the often-total lack of consideration for their vulnerabilities in most countries’ Covid-responses is shocking. According to UNDP’s Covid-19 Gender Response Tracker, less than 15% of countries introduced measures to tackle violence against women and girls and to support women who faced economic insecurity. While they’re turning a blind eye, women find other ways of making themselves heard.  In 2020, we saw a surge in feminist protests for access to safe abortions, livelihoods, political participation and ending police brutality in places like Poland, Turkey, Nigeria, Argentina and India. When patriarchy deprives women of their voices, they rise. 

Listening to feminist activists and amplifying their voices have been at the core of the Enough campaign. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learnt through this global collaboration that are more crucial than ever in 2021 (the full progress report is available in English and in Spanish).

Making the invisible – visible with data

The World Health Organization asks countries to collect the gender-disaggregated data on the effects of Covid-19 on men and women, because data and information make the invisible visible. In a similar way, we’ve been drawing out and exploring information on how social belief systems affect the prevalence of gender-based violence. The results of the research we led in twelve countries in Latin America highlight eight key patriarchal norms – from male entitlement to control of women’s bodies, to distorted ideas of romantic love, which contribute to the region’s high rates of gender-based violence. In Russia, Bolivia and the Philippines, campaigners documented social experiments which test social norms and attitudes towards survivors of violence. Data helps expose the systemic nature of social problems and offers pathways to solutions. That’s why even after the lockdowns hit, we continued collecting stories and data online, to adapt the campaign and remain relevant even in the context of the new pandemic reality.

Nothing about us without us 

The national chapters of the “Enough!” campaign have been co-created and co-led by women and youth. “Evoluciona” campaign in Cuba partnered with the National Federation of Cuban Women, and “ACTÚA Detén la violencia” in Bolivia was co-designed by fifteen local youth organizations. Creating spaces for the leadership of youth and feminist organizations fosters ownership and authenticity of the campaign and allows them to decide on the methods for delivering key messages and addressing the identified patriarchal norm change. In Bolivia, the campaign featured meme competitions and campaigning bootcamps; in China, feminist skits; in Russia, social media marathons. During the lockdown, in partnership with LATFEM, “Enough!” campaigners from ten countries in Latin America created “Cuarentenials” – a series of digital comics about youth experiences of the pandemic. Co-creation allowed the campaign to be deeply rooted in the experience of those who ultimately need to be leading it. 

The power of creative storytelling

Dealing with a global emergency makes it even more important to tell compelling stories which capture hearts and minds. The stories that we tell shape our society and how it functions. From its very inception, the "Enough!" campaign included artists in its design and roll-out for this reason. Street art, poetry, cinema, dance, theatre, illustration, and music help us imagine the future without patriarchy and the violence it sustains and thrives in. During the 16-Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence in 2019, the “Say Enough Cypher” brought together 35 poets, spoken word artists and musicians from 15 countries to speak out against the widespread social tolerance of gender-based violence. Spanish-language content from the Cypher reached more than 17 million people globally. Last year, the pandemic prompted us to celebrate feminist resilience and solidarity through recipes to #LockdownPatriarchy.

In Oxfam’s new Global Strategy for 2020-2030, Oxfam names patriarchy as one of the systems of oppression we must dismantle to eliminate extreme inequality. As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to show us, patriarchy is not an issue that only feminists have to deal with – it must be tackled by everyone. Global efforts like the "Enough!" campaign disrupt the status quo and allow us all to join hands with those who are constantly being excluded and deprived of their voice; because patriarchy is something we must all work together to change, global work rooted in local realities like this is vital. 

We wanted to share the incredible work and lessons we've learned, in the hopes that others will use it to say Enough to gender-based violence. We've compiled what we've learned into a progress report, which is available in English and in Spanish. If you you'd like to stay updated with our take on challenging patriarchy, follow @SayEnoughCampaign and @Oxfam on social media.