Islamabad - Sixteen-day activism to end gender-based violence was launched on Friday by the UK’s Department for International Development-funded AAWAZ programme.

Women from 45 districts of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa gathered in Islamabad to share their inspirational stories of change.

These women included social workers working to reduce gender-based violence, or those who have faced gender-based violence, said a British High Commission statement.

During this campaign, collective voices will be raised from union council level to district level for strengthening local, national, regional and international networks to empower women in Pakistan.

The launch event also showed solidarity with the worldwide movement to end violence against women by highlighting innovative strategies.

Momentum generated during these 16 days will be gathered and a national joint convention of women assembly will be organized at the end of this campaign.

The convention will present the pledges and commitments gathered during the campaign and present its vision to engage with other like-minded groups and seek institutional commitment to end violence against women. This year the campaign continues with the theme “Leave No One Behind; End Violence against Women and girls”.

Commenting on the launch event, Head of DFID Pakistan, Joanna Reid said: “Violence against women and girls must stop.  How can it ever be justified?  Not only is stopping it an essential human right – it will reduce poverty.”

Reid added: “Girls who experience violence are less likely to complete their education, they are at greater risk of dying during childbirth and their ability to earn a living is put at risk. I’m so glad that we’ve launched these 16 days of activism to talk about all the issues.  It’s the first step towards change.”

Naeem Mirza of Aurat Foundation said that the international day of ending violence against women was announced by the UN to commemorate Marable or butterfly Sisters’ struggle for women’s rights against a dictator and 16 days of activism campaign also started from this day.

“There is a dire need to timely pursue and ensure implementation of pro women laws by state departments,” he added.

Farhat Sadique – ADF member and activist – who came all the way from Dera Ismail Khan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa shared her struggles for peace and harmony among different sects to pre-empted sectarian conflicts.

Abida Bibi, a Union Council forum member from Abbottabad, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa shared her struggle when she challenged local Jirga (tibal court) decision regarding gang rape of a 21 year old girl. She was hopeful that culprit Sohail along with his five friends will be punished soon by the high court.

The AAWAZ Voice and Accountability Programme is a DFID funded initiative working at local, provincial and national levels to ensure that democratic processes are more open, inclusive and accountable to citizens. It has a special focus on fostering tolerance and prevention of violence against women and minorities through political participation and other awareness initiatives. It operates across 4,500 villages, peri-urban settlements in 45 districts in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.

The 16 Days campaign is an international campaign that started in 1991 originating from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute. The dates between November 25 - International Day on Violence against Women and December 10 - International Human Rights Day - were decided to symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights of women.

Meanwhile on Friday, Australian High Commissioner to Pakistan Margaret Adamson said that her country will continue to encourage and lend support to Pakistan’s efforts to end violence against women.

In a message marking the international day for the elimination of violence against Women, she said: Our aid program is providing services to women and children affected by domestic violence, including shelters, free legal and medical aid, and livelihood training for reintegration of survivors back into society. The program also engages with communities to challenge discriminatory attitudes against women.”