The “Safe to learn” initiative published a collection of essays that examine and tackle the causes of different forms of violence in and around schools. This essay is authored by Dr. Daniela Ligiero, Executive Director & CEO of Together for Girls.
The author and fellow survivor, Christine MacDonald, wrote, “there is solace in breaking our silence, a strength of spirit that comes when we share our truth, and it all starts with the moment we make the decision to live on the other side of ‘victim’.”
Like most survivors of childhood sexual violence, I lived in shame and fear and felt very alone for a long time. It took many years for me to disclose my experiences to my parents. Once I was able to share what had happened with them, it set off a chain reaction that would change my life.
From that moment, I embarked on an amazing – and sometimes challenging – healing journey. I was fortunate to receive the support that all survivors deserve to undertake that journey.
Today, I’m the CEO and Executive Director of Together for Girls, a global partnership engaged in data-driven advocacy to influence evidence-based action on violence prevention and healing and justice for survivors. Data guides the way; the Together for Girls partnership supports national governments in implementing and using Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS) to inform national policies, programmes, and investments to prevent violence and support survivors.
The VACS are nationally representative household surveys of males and females aged 13 to 24 that measure physical, sexual, and emotional violence in childhood; providing important data on risk and protective factors and the consequences of violence. We now have data for over 10 percent of the world’s population under 24, and it paints an alarming picture. For example, among countries that have conducted a VACS, between 4 and 38 percent of girls and 1 and 21 percent of boys experience some form of sexual violence before the age of 18.
At Together for Girls, we’re particularly interested in exploring the relationship between violence and education. We know that schools are both a location of violence and a potential venue for transformative change to challenge the gender and social norms that drive violence. We also understand how important safe schools are for children’s rights, well-being, learning, and outcomes later in life.
We’ve conducted secondary analyses of VACS data to shed light on the prevalence of corporal punishment perpetrated by teachers against students, peer violence, and sexual violence perpetrated by teachers or students. We can also identify trends like higher rates of physical violence among male students. While patterns often emerge, there are important differences between country contexts.
For example, male teachers tend to perpetrate more corporal punishment against male students, yet VACS data in Nigeria shows a different trend, with 31 percent of female students reporting corporal punishment perpetrated by a male teacher, compared to 21 percent of male students. This contextual difference underscores the importance of data and evidence-based violence prevention policies and programmes.
Finally, we’re able to measure the likelihood that a survivor of school-related violence will disclose their experience to a trusted adult or peer and whether they will seek and receive services. In four countries that conducted a VACS, less than 1 percent to just 12 percent of students who experienced violence received services. As a survivor, I understand deeply how critical accessing quality services is for all survivors.
While this seems like common sense, especially to advocates and practitioners who work to prevent and address violence against children, there is a considerable gap between our understanding and the actions of governments and other key stakeholders.
I believe that one important reason governments and institutions continue to fail survivors is because conversations about violence so often fail to include survivors themselves. This is why Together for Girls has prioritized centering survivor voices and leadership and, in partnership with allies, is catalysing a global movement to end sexual violence against children.
We recognize that sexual violence is the most stigmatized form of violence that children experience and so we believe this is a critical entry point for addressing all forms of violence against children.
The Brave Movement is led by a global coalition of survivors and allies focused on prevention, healing, and justice for survivors. We represent a broad agenda and seek to target an array of decision-makers; from national governments to global audiences like the G7 and UN stakeholders to every citizen who has the power to speak out in support of children and survivors.
We are living through a tumultuous time and face serious interconnected challenges, from the silent pandemic of violence against women and children to climate change to conflicts that reap devastation on civilians. We all have a part to play in addressing these challenges.
For me, engaging in the work of Together for Girls and our partners and allies is a critical piece of a much bigger puzzle. As a survivor, I am keenly aware that investments in prevention, healing, and justice can change the lives of countless individuals and communities. By leveraging data and evidence to underscore the voices of survivors and the wisdom we have to share from our lived experiences, and with the partnership of allies, I believe we can create safer schools and communities and change the world for children, adolescents, and young people.
The “Safe to learn” essay contributors represent a range of voices and perspectives including global education leadership, government, teachers, youth, and civil society, all focused on ideas and solutions to end violence in and around schools.
Chief Executive Officer & President, Together for Girls
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.
Findings and recommendations from secondary analyses of the VACS on violence in schools
This policy brief is targeted at policymakers and practitioners working in gender, education, and child protection fields.
Data on school-related gender-based violence in Nigeria.
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.
Survivors and allies demand change
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.
For decades, advocates and researchers have stressed the need to collect more data on both violence against children and violence against women and have pushed to make sure data is disaggregated by sex, age and geography.
High-quality, disaggregated data on school-related gender-based violence is essential to help drive effective policies and programs for prevention and response.
Together for Girls and partners hosted a Solutions Summit side event. Global leaders, experts, and youth activists shared the latest data on violence in school settings and highlighted school-based interventions for catalyzing broader social change to end violence.
“Social Responsibility within Changing Contexts” was the 2021 conference theme for the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES). CIES is dedicated to increasing understanding of educational issues, trends, and policies through comparative, intercultural, and international perspectives.
Social norms drive gender inequalities and violence, and even though access to education is a human right, learners across the globe are impacted by school-related gender-based violence.
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.
Girls Health Ed is one organization working in and through schools to address the root causes of gender equality that often lead to violence.
Sexual violence against children affects children everywhere at a staggering rate — one in four girls experience physically forced or coerced sexual intercourse.
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.
Friends can play a powerful role in helping survivors access and receive critical care to help them seek justice and start their journey to heal.
Every child around the world deserves the opportunity to learn. Education is a basic human right and a necessary pathway to ending extreme poverty. We know that equitable, quality education has an immense power to transform the lives of individuals, communities, and nations.
The United Nations declares November 18 “World Day for the Prevention of and Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Violence”