16 Ways In 16 Days – inspiration for schools on campaigning against gender based violence

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual international campaign that starts on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until 10 December, Human Rights Day.

It’s a call for action – and an excellent opportunity to raise awareness in your classrooms and playgrounds!

Apart from my role as co-founder and CEO of Enlighten Education, I am also the Director of Education for Women’s Community Shelters, a network of nine shelters and two transitional properties. My role there has included creating and heading their Walk The Talk schools program (we have worked with over 15,000 teens to date on this program – read more about Walk The Talk Schools here), and their new corporate domestic and family violence literacy program which centres survivor’s voices and has a clear call to action. Over the past three years I have also delivered more than twenty Walk The Talk corporate programs to Partners and Directors at KPMG nationally, and to the leadership teams at Lendlease globally.

One of the many things I love about WCS is their grassroots approach to creating an Australia where women are safe, secure, supported and equal. We work with communities to establish new shelters, which provide short term emergency accommodation and support in a safe environment that enables homeless women to rebuild self-esteem and achieve control and fulfilment of their lives.

We know many schools will also be keen to mark this 16 days of activism.

May the following inspire you!

IDEA 1 – Youth voice, activated! 

Ask your school’s student leadership team to research what this campaign is about, why it was created by the UN, and why it remains valuable to share stories, get informed and take action on the issue of gender based violence. Based on their research, ask these young people to report back to the rest of the school at assembly, and then create a social media campaign for your school which reflects your students’ commitment to the cause.




IDEA 2 – Relationship Green Flags

Celebrate what works in all your relationships – whether they be romantic, with family, friends or colleagues. These “green flags” are the things you seek out in an ideal relationship.

Create a wall of green flags (simply use green A4 paper cut into quarters) in a prominent area of your school, such as in the library or school hall, and encourage every student to pin their own relationship must-have to the collection.



IDEA 3 – Give the gift of choice.

Consider running a gift voucher for Christmas giving and donate the cards to your local women’s shelter. Gift vouchers give women and children who are in crisis the dignity of making her own choices. This is particularly important if she has experienced domestic violence (and it is likely she will have as this is the number one cause for homeless in women). In many DV relationships, there are elements of financial control at play; she may never have had the opportunity to select her own products before.

We taught the students in our Walk The Talk Schools program the importance of giving choice rather than donating items we choose, and their empathy was impressive:

“The money we raised (as a year group) went to buying about 50 Coles and Woolworths gift cards to give to the shelter, with the intention to enable them freedom and dignity that they can buy things they need and take care of themselves with some independence. Then we decorated cards with personalized messages – with the help of the whole of Year 10 who wrote inspiring and uplifting quotes and messages – to give to the women coming into the shelter along with the gift card.”


IDEA 4 – “Think before you speak, read before you speak.” Fran Lebowitz

Create a display in the school library on the theme of respectful relationships. One book worth including is the book I she co-wrote with journalist and sexual violence advocate Nina Funnell, Lovability – An Empowered Girls Guide to Dating and Relationships.




IDEA 5 – Reaching out 

Form an action committee that researches the front-line services available to women and children experiencing gender-based violence or homelessness in your local area, and the national crisis lines and counselling services those in distress can call. Create posters featuring contact details for these supports and feature these on the back of the student toilet doors.

Knowing such supports are out there and accessible may make all the difference for someone who is in an abusive relationship and feels isolated and alone.


IDEA 6 – Host a movie and ask for a gold coin donation to give to your local shelter.

Select a group of students who can consider the best movie choice. Did you know that many films still rely on sexist stereotypes and outdated narratives? Consider running any film choice past the Bechdel Test.

The Bechdel Test first appeared in a 1985 strip of a long-running comic by cartoonist and writer Alison Bechdel. According to the original comic, the three rules are:

  • The movie must have at least two women in it.
  • The women must talk to each other.
  • Their discussion must be about something other than a man.

Here are some movies that (perhaps surprisingly) don’t pass the Bechdel Test:

The entire “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (2001–2003)
Avatar (2009)
The Avengers (2013).

Make sure the film you showcase passes with flying colours!


IDEA 7 – Pass the mic! 

Invite a guest speaker who works on the frontline fighting gender-based violence to share their work, and why it matters. Speakers worth considering include staff from your local shelter, and your local police domestic violence liaison officer.


Idea 8 – Get your craft on!

Ask students to knit or crochet a square which can then be added to a “blanket of support” gifted to a woman at a shelter who is in crisis. At our shelters, we have wonderful groups of local crafters who create these for us. Our women take these with them when they leave our shelter network, a reminder that they are supported and valued.



Idea 9 – Herstory

Encourage students to research the history of the women’s shelter movement in Australia. Did you know that the first women’s refuge in Australia was Elsie Refuge which was started in the inner-Sydney suburb of Glebe in 1974 by a group of Women’s Liberation feminist activists including Bessie Guthrie, Kris Melmouth, Jennifer Dakers, Margaret Power, Carol Baker, Diana Beaton and Anne Summers?

What motivated these pioneers? What obstacles did they have to overcome? How did the community respond?

Who founded your local women’s shelter? When? How is it funded?


Idea 10 – Join a community walk against violence – or host your own!

When we walk in solidarity with victim-survivors, we show that we are committed to changing the status quo and creating an Australia where women are safe, secure, supported and equal. Perhaps you could do 16 laps of the school oval – one for each day in this period of activism! Create banners that highlight your commitment to be a changemaker. Loud and proud!


Idea 11 – One for the teachers!

Start your own gender-based violence book club. Some of the titles the team at Women’s Community Shelters have found powerful include the ones pictured here.

Amani Haydar –  The Mother Wound.There are book club notes you may access here for this title:

Jess Hill – See What You Made Me Do. There are book club notes you may access here for this title:


Idea 12 – Eat your way to equality!

Host a bake sale, BBQ or pizza lunch and raise funds for your local shelter.

Here’s some inspiration. Every year, the boys at Oakhill College host a Soft Drink can stall they cleverly called, “You Can Make a Difference.” The money raised is donated to their local shelter, The Sanctuary – The Hills Women’s Shelter (Castle Hill Women’s Shelter). Each can had a sticker with statistics on Domestic Violence and Facts about the work of The Sanctuary. These were designed to initiate important playground conversations. Isn’t that genius?

Last year, they sold 400 cans sold in six minutes!


Idea 13 – Create a school playlist of songs celebrating positive relationships.

Songwriters have often attempted to capture what is really great about relationships. Which songs about friendship and love will your students choose? For inspiration check out this empowering playlist from The Haven Women’s Shelter https://loom.ly/XLRiH4Q


Idea 14 – Getting arty with it. 

Harness the creativity of your school community and create a piece of community artwork for your local shelter. This thoughtful artwork was created by members of our community and hangs in one of our shelters. Positive messages like this help show our residents that they are not alone.


Idea 15 – Orange you glad to be part of the solution?

The UN’s End Violence Against Women colour is orange, this is also one of the colours Women’s Community Shelters chooses to represent their services.  Host a “wear something orange” day at your school and ask everyone who participates to bring a gold coin. You can then donate the proceeds to our work with frontline services here: https://drct-womenscommunityshelters.prod.supporterhub.net/donations/walk-with-us

We encourage action that moves beyond token gestures, so amp up the impact of this day by also displaying posters around the school that promote safe, equitable, respectful relationships. Perhaps your theme might be “Love is…” ?

Idea 16 – Book in our very own Walk the Talk respectful relationships / service learning program!

A pioneering program building awareness of domestic violence and women’s homelessness,  our Walk the Talk in-school program empowers young people to support local women and children in need by ‘adopting’ their local shelter.

Phase one of the program is a half-day in school workshop delivered by Enlighten Education and the Goodfellas (for boys) team.

Phase two is a community-based service-learning opportunity; teens get to support the work of their local women’s refuge.

Participating students have raised money through numerous fundraising activities, created welcome packs, handmade wooden toys for the shelters, grew vegetables, volunteered including landscaping the gardens and renovated a study space in one of the shelters, assisted at gala fundraisers and helped raise awareness in their local communities.

Click on the video to hear more student voices describe their year of walking the talk. It’s really moving hearing teens express their enthusiasm in such a heartfelt manner. To book, reach out to our WTT Education Officer Julia Fleming here: julia@womenscommunityshelters.org.au