#Togetherfor10: A Look Back at the First Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) in Eswatini

#Togetherfor10: A Look Back at the First Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) in Eswatini

2019 is a big year for Together for Girls (TfG). From celebrating ten years of the TfG partnership, to expanding our violence prevention work to more than 20 countries across the globe, we have a lot to be thankful for. In honor of our collective progress over the past decade, we’re reflecting on a truly pivotal moment in our partnership’s history: the launch of the first Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland).

 

Launched in 2007, the VACS in Eswatini was the first of its kind and a prototype for surveys to come, focused on sexual, physical and emotional violence against girls and young women. Led by the Government of Eswatini and developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF as part of the TfG partnership, the VACS are nationally representative household surveys of 13-24 year old males and females designed to measure the prevalence, past 12-month incidence and circumstances surrounding sexual, physical and emotional violence in childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. Using the TfG model, countries use the data from the VACS to inform and prioritize actions that will prevent and respond to violence.

A Country-Led Blueprint for Ending Violence Against Children

UNICEF SWAZILAND, 2014

Since undertaking the VACS in 2007, the Government of Eswatini and its partners made historic progress towards ending violence against children, and their work has served as a blueprint for TfG partner countries around the world. From passing the Children’s Protection and Welfare Bill and the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill in 2018 to creating a Domestic Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit in all 24 police stations, their important work of preventing and responding to violence continues to grow. The partnership also made the vital decision to include the experiences of boys in all future surveys—an essential step towards approaching violence prevention with an inclusive lens.

 

In 2014, TfG had the privilege of co-hosting the Global Violence Against Children Meeting in Eswatini. During the meeting, the partnership joined 20 countries from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean to share evidence and practice on the prevention and response to violence against children. The aim of the meeting was to foster the exchange of knowledge about using research to action for mobilizing an effective policy and programme response to violence against children.

One important aspect of the meeting was the emphasis on including a diversity of perspectives. Over 180 individuals, including teams from country governments, civil society, development partners and international experts participated in the event.

 

We also had the opportunity to visit our Eswatini partners for an up-close look at VACS-informed programs and interventions taking shape across the country. Check out this powerful story from our trip to Eswatini, featuring the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA)’s vital work to end gender-based violence across the country.

Speaking Out Against Violence in School-Based Girls Empowerment Clubs

A SWAGAA peer mentor facilitating a girls’ empowerment group.  Photo credit: TfG, 2014

In a schoolroom in Eswatini, a young girl reads a poem to her peers. It’s about the time her neighbor—a friend’s father—tried to take advantage of her in his car. The details of what exactly happened to her are not clear from her writing, but the emotional impact of the experience was obvious. She stands tall stating that she has the power to overcome this abuse, but she is also shaking.

If disclosing sexual violence to a room full of your classmates seems rare, it is. But this isn’t a typical class. This is one of SWAGAA’s girls’ empowerment clubs, which meets each week to create a safe space in her school. Led by a peer mentor, the girls’ empowerment program builds skills and knowledge that facilitate confidence, leadership and friendship. It also encourages girls to use art, such as poetry, drama, music, dance, drawing or debate, as a form of expression.

 

When they first joined the club, many girls shared that they were unaware that the sexual violence they encountered was unacceptable. For example, if a girl’s uncle was paying for her school, she felt she had to allow his advances. “The club taught us about the problems we face, and that we don’t have to face them alone,” said one participant. Another girl chimed in, “it has taught me to have a backbone and to have confidence.”

 

This is just one of many clubs that TfG country partners and local NGOs are supporting to engage children and teach them about their rights—a crucial first step to breaking the silence and stigma surrounding many issues.

 

Read more about Together for Girl’s work in Eswatini here. Learn more about work in Eswatini with youth mentorship here.

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