All children deserve to live free from violence. Unfortunately, all around the world, girls experience sexual violence at staggering rates.
Global estimates show that 120 million (or one in ten) girls under the age of 20 have experienced some form of forced sexual contact.
While we know the magnitude of sexual violence against children, we also know that it doesn’t have to be this way. There are proven, evidence-based solutions that work to prevent and respond to violence against children and promote gender equality. Girls Health Ed is one organization working in and through schools to address the root causes of gender equality that often lead to violence.
Founded in 2012, Girls Health Ed works to advance gender equality by fostering empowered, healthy, and informed decision making in adolescent girls and young women through comprehensive health and sexuality education.
To address the issue, Girls Health Ed hosts interactive and educational workshops in the US and Kenya to equip girls with tools to build their confidence throughout adolescence. With the help of Teaching Fellows who lead the workshops in schools, Girls Health Ed provides a curriculum to teach girls about a wide range of topics including nutrition, puberty, body image/self esteem and more, focusing on the unique needs of girls and young women. Some of the lessons include how to read nutrition labels, how to take care of themselves during puberty, and how to love themselves regardless of how they look.
In spring of 2020, the UN estimated that there would be 61 million additional cases of gender-based violence if lockdowns or restricted movements continued for a year. During this time Girls Health Ed started developing their latest module, which focused on violence prevention.
“We know that early exposure to violence in childhood is a huge risk factor for later involvement in violence, either as a victim or perpetrator,” explained Singh. “The goal of this module is to help prevent violence that could perpetuate more violence in the future. It also came at a critical time when gender-based violence was on the rise due to the pandemic.”
Through interactive activities and role playing, the violence prevention module teaches girls about healthy communication, boundary setting, digital safety, and more. They also learn to identify the qualities of healthy, unhealthy, and abusive relationships.
“We also introduce the idea of consent,” said Singh. “So that by the time the girls do engage in romantic and sexual relationships, they are so comfortable with consent that they feel comfortable telling their partners yes or no.”
UNICEF estimates that 168 million children missed out on learning in school for an entire year as a result of the pandemic, representing a significant rollback of gains made in ensuring access to safe, equitable, and quality education.
To continue providing girls and young women with access to quality education in a safe space, Girls Health Ed shifted to virtual workshops in the US so that girls could continue the curriculum while their schools remained closed.
In Kenya, where virtual workshops were not an option due to limited access to technology, the girls gathered in open community spaces, where they could follow social distancing guidelines while still participating in the activities.
In addition to the violence prevention module that was developed during COVID-19, the workshops started focusing on personal hygiene and hand-washing. They also put a particular focus on menstrual health management, with which girls and women around the world struggle due to reductions in income and mobility restrictions.
The results from Girls Health Ed’s workshops show the powerful impact of the program on girls’ attitudes towards themselves and their confidence overall.
Based on surveys taken before and after the workshops, the results show how the girls feel more confident in themselves and autonomy over their bodies and sexual health.
“Through educating girls and sharing resources, the program helps boost their confidence and raise their self-awareness so that they are never put in positions where they can be taken advantage of and so they can step into positions of power and authority with that same confidence,” explained Angela Young, Director of Communications and Teaching Fellow for Girls Health Ed.
Not only do girls who participate in the workshops feel more confident with themselves, they are also equipped with knowledge and tools to share what they learned with their families and peers, leading to safer and healthier schools and communities.
“In one workshop, we were told that a group of boys was bullying a group of girls at school because they had their periods,” said Singh. “The girls, who had participated in the workshop, stepped in and educated the boys on what periods were and why.”
This ripple effect from the program is growing globally, as Girls Health Ed plans to expand to other countries in the coming years, and has already piloted programs in India and Bangladesh. So far, over 6,500 girls and young women have participated in their workshops. In addition to expanding to other geographies, the program seeks to expand the curriculum to focus on girls’ leadership.
Girls Health Ed currently operates in four US cities and three cities in Kenya and has done pilot programs in Hyderabad, India and Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh.
“We would like to include advocacy training as part of what we offer,” explained Singh. “We want to train the girls and young women we serve to be advocates for issues that are important to them, to take on leadership roles and to be champions for themselves.”
While we know the magnitude of gender inequality and violence against women and girls, we also know what works to prevent violence and promote equality. Interventions like Girls Health Ed show what is possible when we harness the power of education to create change — in individuals, schools, families, and communities — leading to a safer, more equitable world for all.
Learn more about Girls Health Ed and their work.
This resource provides evidence that VACS data and associated processes contribute to meaningful policy change and action to end violence against children and adolescents and gender-based violence.
Explore the results from a secondary analysis of VACS data by Together for Girls, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Global Affairs Canada.
The pandemic affords a unique opportunity to create better and safer schools in our communities.
Data on school-related gender-based violence in Kenya.
This article examines the outcomes associated with early sexual debut in five sub-Saharan African countries for males and females, separately.
This policy brief is targeted at policymakers and practitioners working in gender, education, and child protection fields.
Together for Girls, in partnership with The Equality Institute and the Oak Foundation, undertook a systematic review of proven solutions and best practices to prevent and respond to sexual violence against children and young people.
While school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) is prevalent, it is also preventable, and there are evidence-based solutions that show that teachers and school personnel can be significant changemakers when they take active roles in preventing, addressing, and responding to violence.
To mark World Education Day this year, we spoke to Yona Nestel of Plan International and Olanike Timipa-Uge of Teenage Network to learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on girls’ access to education.
We have conducted secondary analyses of the Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS) to understand the prevalence, consequences, and gender-specific experiences of violence in and around schools.
Every October 11, we celebrate International Day of the Girl to recognize the achievements, opportunities and challenges impacting girls and young women everywhere.
The Global Education Summit: Financing GPE 2021-2025 will be a key moment for the global community to come together and support quality education for all children.
Every child deserves to be safe at home, in their communities, and at school. However, findings from the VACS show that many children experience school-related gender-based violence. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The COVID-19 lockdowns around the U.S. have exacerbated what was already a widespread problem gripping our nation: the trapping of children at home with sexual abusers.
Survivors of sexual violence, particularly those of color, should be leading the conversations about their needs and the needs of their communities, informing policy, and catalyzing prevention.
Education is a fundamental human right and a critical pathway to ending extreme poverty. Equitable, quality education has an immense power to transform the lives of individuals, families, communities, and nations.
Six ways to celebrate 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.
To commemorate International Day of the Girl, Together for Girls co-hosted a high-level event at the Embassy of Canada, “Data to Action: Breaking the Cycle of Violence Against Girls”.