By Daniela Ligiero
December 22, 2018
As I look back at 2017, there’s no doubt that it was a watershed year for those of us committed to ending violence against girls and women. Not only because more and more survivors who have the courage to come forward are being believed—but also because global leaders are stepping up and responding.
On September 21, the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) launched an historic global, multi-year initiative focused on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG) – the Spotlight Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to put violence at the center of efforts to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
An initial investment in the order of €500 million will be made, with the EU as the main contributor. Other donors and partners will be invited to join the Initiative to broaden its reach and scope.
We welcome and commend the EU and UN’s commitment to this issue, and are working to increase our collaboration with Spotlight.
The Together for Girls Partnership was built on the realization that violence, particularly sexual violence against girls and young women, is at the center of many of the development issues the world is committed to addressing—HIV, unintended pregnancy, school completion, gender equality, economic growth. We also acknowledge the importance of addressing the intersections of violence against children and violence against women if we are to truly end both pandemics.
However, to truly eliminate violence we must first understand it. That’s why our work always starts with data. The Violence against Children Surveys (VACS), led by CDC and national governments with support from UNICEF, PEPFAR, USAID, and the Government of Canada as part of the Together for Girls partnership, have provided nationally representative data on violence for more than 10% of the world’s adolescents and young people (aged 13-24).
This unique data set is the most comprehensive of its kind for adolescents and young people, providing in-depth understanding of physical, sexual and emotional violence, risk and protective factors, as well as short and long-term associated consequences.
Our data show that more than 30% of girls experience sexual violence before age 18, and almost one in four describes their first completed sex (intercourse) as forced or coerced. This sexual violence is perpetrated primarily by men and boys: husbands, boyfriends, trusted adults, family members, and strangers. It happens everywhere: at home, at school, in communities, on the street. Everywhere we’ve looked, we’ve found unacceptably high numbers of girls and young women being pressured, tricked, coerced or physically forced to have sex. We have also found that girls and young women are at risk for sexual violence throughout their lives—with adolescence being a particularly vulnerable time.
Fortunately, substantial evidence on what works to prevent and respond to violence has been collected in the last 20 years and we now know a great deal about what to do. The Together for Girls Partnership has been at the forefront of this work, providing data and supporting solutions, working closely with all of our partners and national governments in 22 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America. We welcome to opportunity to work with the Spotlight Initiative, which already includes several of our partners. We have the potential to create lasting, generational change if we think strategically, act boldly and coordinate our efforts. Count us in as our global community continues to make history in 2018!