With violence against women filling the headlines over and over, 2021 felt like a very violent year. Unfortunately, this trend is not a one-off, it follows a well-known pattern.
According to UN Women, in times of crises, the number of women who experience violence rises. During the Covid pandemic the number rose from one in three to one in two.
These stats felt very real for most women in the UK as we witnessed the femicides of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, two of the most distressing cases.
Sarah was taken virtually on my doorstep, and even though physical proximity shouldn’t be an influential factor, I can’t deny its magnifying effects. Her murder shocked me to the core and brought my attention firmly back to a huge societal problem that has always been there and feels impossible to solve.
Not knowing where to start to make a difference, feeling angry and powerless, I wrote an emotional email to Grey’s management team and asked for help. I asked for the agency to come together and use the power of creativity to solve this huge problem.
We know that the work we create changes behaviours, we know we can reach millions, we know we have access to the most powerful media platforms and influential decision makers.
For example, "Dumb ways to die" reduced train incidents by 21%. "THINK!" reduced the number of deaths caused by drink-driving by 86%. We have created a seat in the UN that not only gave 128,000 people a voice but also got their message heard by 1.3 billion people. We are campaigning to make cyberflashing illegal in the UK, working with Brook, the sexual health and wellness charity for young people.
So, yes, I do believe in the power of creativity. I also believe that our industry can help stop violence against women and, thanks to the support of Grey, we now have a taskforce that is running this as a live project.
But the more we work on it, the more we realise how complex this issue really is; how many socio-economic factors affect it; how many behaviours and belief systems need to change to put a stop to it.
To eradicate gender-based violence we need to tackle: gender inequality, the glorification of violence and sexualisation of women and girls, weak or limited laws against violence, male entitlement to sex from women, honour codes (see Hagemann-White), rape culture, toxic masculinity, consent, harassment, limited opportunities available to women and girls. Each of these factors is a hugely complex issue in its own right.
Not to mention the short-term versus long-term challenge: should we give women more tools to keep themselves safe right now? Though that would put the responsibility on them once more. Should we instead create behaviour changing communications directed at men? But that could take years to make an impact.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organisation director-general, recently said: “Unlike Covid-19, violence against women cannot be stopped with a vaccine. We can only fight it with deep-rooted and sustained efforts – by governments, communities and individuals – to change harmful attitudes, improve access to opportunities and services for women and girls, and foster healthy and mutually respectful relationships.”
There is no silver bullet, no one person or organisation alone can beat this. Our taskforce will be sharing a pledge for the industry in 2022, so I ask all of you reading this to join us.
Let’s unite the power of our creativity, let’s use our contacts, our gravitas, our platforms, our voices, use our networks, our influence to end violence against women for good.
Annalisa Roy is the joint head of strategy at Grey