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This post, written by Jeff Meer, originally appeared on the PHI website and is available here.

The UN Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) holds its annual meeting from March 4 – 15 at the UN headquarters in New York. This year, approximately 3,000 women and men from around the world will attend.  The priority theme for this year’s meeting is “Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.”  Public Health Institute (PHI), which is an accredited NGO, is sending a small delegation to the meeting, including representatives from PHI projects Global Youth Coalition on AIDS, and What Works for Women and Girls in HIV/AIDS. Gillian Dolce, Melanie-Croce Galis and Jill Gay plan to attend UNCSW sessions, participate in side meetings and network.  

In addition, PHI produced a statement for inclusion in the record at the Commission meeting; read our recommendations to the international community to eliminate violence against women and girls and to mitigate the harmful effects of violence that does occur.

Since 1975, the world has observed International Women’s Day—a day to celebrate and honor the achievements of and for all women, past and present. This year’s theme is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women.”

Violence against women and girls is most often perpetrated by someone the woman knows. Child abuse, intimate partner violence, acquaintance and date rape, are all examples. It is estimated that as many as 76% of women experience physical or sexual violence perpetrated by an intimate partner over the course of their lifetime. It is estimated that 50% of all sexual assaults occur against girls age 15 or younger. Nonconsensual sex takes many forms, including forced sex, transactional sex, cross-generational sex, unwanted touch, and molestation and often goes unreported. Perpetrators can be strangers, peers, intimate partners, family members, and authority figures such as teachers. In 2002, 150 million girls under the age of 18 experienced sexual violence; too often, adolescents’ first sexual experience is forced or coerced.

Harmful traditional practices such as female genital cutting and early marriage are also examples of the widespread violence against adolescent girls. To date, over 130 million girls have undergone female genital cutting and an estimated 30 million are at still risk. Approximately 10 million adolescent girls become child brides each year. Child brides are denied the right to determine whom or when they marry. Furthermore, married girls are often forced to leave school at a young age as a result of early marriage and are at greater risk for sexual violence. The tradition of early marriage is sometimes associated with other forms of violence such as spousal rape and dowry- or honor-related violence. Each year, approximately 5,000 women and girls die because of dowry-related murders. An estimated 5,000 adolescent girls and women are killed by family members in the name of honor annually.

In any form, violence against adolescent girls and young women has negative consequences. This can mean the immediate physical consequence of a violent act or long-term mental health consequences. Other examples of the effects of GBV include unintended pregnancies, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and death. “Every girl and woman should be able to live safely and free of violence. Violence against women must never be accepted, never excused, never tolerated.”—UN Women

Learn more about International Women’s Day
Find International Women’s Day Events
Discover resources on youth and gender based violence
Listen to the first song ever released by the UN System “One Women”

Just a few hours ago today, Congress voted to renew the Violence Against Women Act. This important bill is a reauthorization of legislation first enacted in 1994; this version includes provisions to combat child marriage.

Early marriage is an egregious violation of human rights with severe consequences for girls’ sexual and reproductive health. Every day more than 37,000 girls get married, and if present trends continue, an estimated 15 million girls will become child brides every year beginning in 2021. Girls who are married are forced to take on roles for which they are not emotionally and physically prepared. For many girls, marriage marks the beginning of their sexual life. Married adolescents have sex more often than their unmarried peers; are less able to refuse sex or negotiate safe sex; and often have older, more sexually experienced partners — all factors that increase their risk of HIV infection. Young women are often expected to demonstrate their fertility by becoming pregnant. Many give birth within the first year of marriage when their bodies are not fully matured. Childbirth- and pregnancy-related complications are the number one cause of death among girls ages 15-19; of the 16 million adolescent girls who give birth each year, 90% are married.

The early marriage provisions included in this bill mandate that the administration create a multisectoral strategy to end child marriage. The bill states that the “Secretary of State shall establish and implement a multi-year, multi-sectoral strategy—

  1. to prevent child marriage,
  2. to promote the empowerment of girls at risk of child marriage in developing countries
  3. that should address the unique needs and vulnerabilities and potential of girls younger than 18 years of age in developing countries
  4. that targets areas in developing countries with high prevalence of child marriage and
  5. that includes diplomatic and programmatic initiatives.”

In response to this act, U.S. Senator Durbin stated,

 “Today is a victory for women and girls not only living here at home but abroad; The new mandate for a multisectoral strategy to end child marriage is an important step forward and now we must focus our efforts on ensuring it is developed without delay and its implementation is fully funded.”

This is an important step in the fight against early marriage. President Obama is expected to soon sign the bill in law saying

 “Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear, and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk.”

Tomorrow, February 14th 2013, marks the fifteenth anniversary of the V-day campaign to end violence against women and girls. Through their One Billion Rising campaign, V-day organizers are inviting activists around the world to rise, dance and “join in solidarity, purpose and energy and shake the world into a new consciousness.” One Billion Rising was developed in response to the staggering statistic that one in three women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. With the world population at 7 billion, this adds up to more than 1 billion women and girls.
Violence against women and girls is most often perpetrated by someone the woman knows. Intimate partner violence, rape, “honor” killings, female genital cutting, and human trafficking are all examples of violent acts committed against women and girls. In all parts of the world, adolescent girls experience violence at astronomical levels.

 
Harrowing numbers:

  • Approximately 50% of all sexual assaults occur against girls age 15 or younger.
  •  In 2002, 150 million girls under the age of 18 experienced sexual violence, and many times, adolescents’ first sexual experience is forced or coerced.
  • One in five females will be a victim of rape in her lifetime.
  • Between 15% and 76% of women experience physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by an intimate partner over the course of their life.
  • Between 2 to 4 million people are trafficked in and across borders each year and females account for 98% of all trafficking victims.
  • Approximately 10 million adolescent girls become child brides each year.
  • Each year, approximately 5,000 women and girls die because of dowry-related murders.
  • An estimated 5,000 adolescent girls and women are killed by family members in the name of honor every year.
  • Over 130 girls have undergone female genital cutting and an estimated 30 million are at still risk.

These numbers are unacceptable. Violence against adolescent girls curtails their education and opportunities; it can lead to poor health and psychological outcomes. Repercussions include unwanted pregnancies, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and death. Violence against women and adolescent girls hinders their ability to thrive and is a blatant violation of their human rights. We can all take a stand and join the movement to end violence against women. Learn how you can take part here: One Billion Rising.

This story was originally posted on The Huffington Post and appeared on Pathfinder International’s blog.

Purnima Mane is Pathfinder’s President and Chief Executive Officer. She oversees more than 1,000 staff around the world, an annual budget exceeding $100 million, and sexual and reproductive health programs in more than 20 developing countries.

I traveled home to India over Christmas to spend time with family—a time that should be filled with cheer. Yet this trip has been overshadowed by the terrible, horrific gang rape of a young Indian woman.

At first, I could not get myself to write about it. The details are just too revolting. And as more information emerges and fills the pages of the newspapers here day in and day out, I have felt sick. It would be easy to be disheartened and pessimistic. Here’s a young woman brutally violated and beaten by six men, left on the road unaided, passed by people who did not offer help, who ultimately lost her battle to survive.

Not only is her story heartbreaking, but one feels crushed that we, as a worldwide community, have been working on improving the rights of girls and women for so long—yet these kinds of atrocities continue. Not only is her story heartbreaking, but one feels crushed that we, as a worldwide community, have been working on improving the rights of girls and women for so long—yet these kinds of atrocities continue.

However, the fact that this gang rape is raising huge attention in India, and around the world, is important to note. In many ways, it’s a sea change.

Both women and men—yes, men!—are standing up and saying, “This is unacceptable.”

Their protests are reminiscent of the 19th century when a few brave men led the fight against sati (the practice of burning a woman on her husband’s funeral pyre), against child marriage, and for girls’ education and in support of widow remarriage. That was a time when it would have been nearly impossible for women to make such demands without significant risks.

It’s inspiring to see women standing strong so publicly today. And the fact that many more men from all walks of life are standing up openly is also a significant sign of progress. A well-known Indian actor whose screen image revolves around his manifestation of machismo said, “I feel ashamed to be a man today.”

People are protesting in the streets, taking action through media, including social media, to demand justice and attention not just for this case, but for all women who continue to face sexual harassment, gender-based violence, and sexual violence. That spirit must be encouraged.

But there’s a long way to go.

The sad truth is that we are nowhere close to where we need to be on ending all forms of violence against women. Not only are there cases like these—brutal and public—there are also more devious means of harassment and bullying. Violence against women is getting more and more sophisticated and insidious. It’s verbal, it’s sexual, it’s physical, and it’s manifested in a variety of ways.

We know sexual violence is a pervasive issue, not just in India, but in countries around the world. Just look at the discussion happening in the United States right now about Steubenville, Ohio and the young girl whose sexual assault was documented via Twitter and Facebook. Society cannot say it only happens once in a while and only in some parts of the world.

Sadly, this is happening everywhere.

So what can we do?

We need to be talking not just about how we punish these actions, but about how we prevent this from happening. We must talk about changes in cultural norms, in India and around the world. We need to be talking not just about how we punish these actions, but about how we prevent this from happening. We must talk about changes in cultural norms, in India and around the world. We must talk about increasing respect for women with no tie to what time they travel, who they are with, what clothes they wear, whether they’ve been drinking, what their sexual history is.

Sexual harassment in any form, at any point in time, under any circumstances is unacceptable. Period. That should be the norm.

I hope that the tragedy of the young woman’s death in India, whom many are calling Nirbhaya, “the fearless one,” will not be in vain. But rather, inspire fearlessness for all of us—women and men—to take action.

Fearlessness to say “this has happened to me” and to speak out when one sees it happening. To hold perpetrators, communities, and leaders accountable. To stop defining masculinity through violence. And fearlessness to end violence against women for good.

Nike-USAID partnership in Kenya helps struggling female fish sellers attain safety, solidarity and success in alternative industries.

This post, written by Clara Kakai, originally appeared on USAID’s FrontLine blog and can be accessed here.

Two years ago, 21-year-old Beatrice Kasina was a struggling fish seller on the shores of Kenya’s Lake Victoria.

Seventeen-year-old Ruth Otieno was unemployed and fully dependent on the meager income of her fisherman husband.

Credit: Emma Odundo

‘Value Girl’ Betty Anyango, 20, tends to chicks in a demo house. She is now a successful micro-entrepreneur who helps other young women start similar projects.

Twenty-three-year-old Susan Opiyo, a single mother of two, was hawking tiny fish, called omena, by the roadside, desperate for motorists to stop and buy so she could feed her young children.

These three women’s stories echo those of hundreds more in Kenya’s lake region, where dependence on fish as the only economic resource is commonplace. But sadly, the fish industry is in decline. Environmental degradation, illegal fishing and interference with fish breeding sites have depleted fish reserves in the lake waters.

With rising competition for fewer fish, young women are particularly vulnerable. Many resort to risky sexual behavior because they do not own boats and have to rely on the whims of fishermen for supplies. The fish-for-sex trade has been an issue of concern for several years. One analysis published in 2009 reported the rate of HIV prevalence was 30 percent among the people who live and work in fishing communities.

Today, however, life has dramatically improved for the three young women, who hold their own as successful micro-entrepreneurs. Kasina rears chicken; Otieno is a vegetable farmer; Opiyo is involved in raising poultry and vegetable farming. The three have one thing in common: They are all “Value Girls.”

Value Girls is a Global Development Alliance jointly funded by The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Nike Foundation to improve the socio-economic status of young women by giving them alternative sources of income. It works with women between the ages of 14 and 24 who live in the fishing communities of rural Nyanza and Western Kenya.

“Decades of research show that improving the economic status of women improves food security, wealth creation and economic growth,” says Beatrice Wamalwa, a gender specialist at USAID/Kenya.

Studies also show that higher incomes for women result in healthier households because women are more likely to spend their incomes on their children’s nutritional and educational needs. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, rural women are essential actors in reducing hunger, undernutrition and poverty because they make up 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries.

Credit: Natasha Murigu

Susan Akoth Owindu at Kaswanga farm on the shores of Lake Victoria pumps water to irrigate her vegetable garden. The Value Girls program has helped to improve the lives of over 1,400 Kenyan women.

Value Girls is tapping into young women’s potential and is contributing to the goals of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative: reducing hunger and poverty through agriculture and improved nutrition.

The Value Girls program works through three local organizations in six districts. In market surveys, poultry and vegetable farming were deemed the most viable alternatives to fishing because of their sustainability and potential to increase women’s incomes.

According to Emma Odundo, a senior program officer with the Value Girls program, these organizations recruit women working on the beaches of Lake Victoria. “The program first mobilizes the women into self-selected groups of five or six, where they begin a savings scheme, elect leaders and decide on an income-generating activity. They are then given technical, business and financial literacy skills as well as demonstrations for either poultry or vegetable farming,” Odundo said.

Participants also receive start-up support. Poultry groups receive in-kind matching grants of the total value of their savings, usually the equivalent
of $20 to $60 per group member, while vegetable-farming groups get
fencing for the farms they lease. The groups can also access loans from
microfinance institutions to expand their businesses or buy equipment such as water pumps for irrigation.

“Poultry Farming Changed My Life”

Value Girls allows young women to have stable incomes and reduces their susceptibility to abuse and sexual exploitation. The women’s successes are also rippling through the region.

In poultry farming, for example, the young women are now the largest buyers in Nyanza and Western provinces of day-old chicks from Kenchic, the largest poultry management firm in Kenya. Between July and September 2011, 250 young women placed orders for a total of 8,000 day-old chicks—which should earn them a combined gross income of around $36,500.

The increased incomes have propelled the women’s value within their households and the community: They are now considered significant contributors to society.

“My husband has a newfound respect for me because I can now ease his financial burden,” says Otieno.

“Poultry farming has changed my life,” says an elated Kasina, who is now making more in a day than she used to make in a week.

Credit: Emma Odundo

Everline Odhaimbo waters her vegetables at Kaugege Beach. USAID’s Value Girls program is helping to reduce hunger and poverty in the country through agriculture and improved nutrition.

For Opiyo, it is the healthy appearance of her children that gives her the most joy. With the added bonus of a woman mentor for each of the business groups, the three are optimistic that they will surpass their current successes.

Their new lifestyles have been replicated by more than 1,400 other young women who joined the program since 2009. Having exceeded last year’s target of 1,000 women, and expanded from eight to 39 beaches, USAID’s $1.9 million Value Girl program may be ending in November—but none of the young women plan to abandon their new livelihoods.

“The metamorphosis is amazing. When hundreds of dependent young women become self-reliant, the effects will be felt for generations,” says Pharesh Ratego, Value Girls project manager at USAID, after visiting several beneficiaries. “By the looks of it, chicken and vegetables may soon replace fish as the local delicacy in the region.”

Learn more about livelihood programs and sexual and reproductive health on our website: http://www.iywg.org/youth/topics/livelihoods

In early August, the international news agency, Reuters, reported that families in Kenyawere selling their daughters into marriage, sometimes for as little as $168.00 dollars, in an attempt to ease the economic burden caused by drought. The story about the “child drought brides” gathered international attention. Sadly, the situation inKenya is not unique. Climate change, and its detrimental effects on the environment, disproportionately affects adolescent girls and is increasing girls’ risk for school dropout, early marriage, sexual violence, and other negative outcomes.

 

“Climate change and local environmental change may destroy all of my dreams and aspirations,” 15 year-old girl from the Philippines

Drought and natural disasters often increase the economic burden felt by vulnerable households.  In the aftermath of natural disasters, families may experience job loss, home damage, and loss of crops and livestock. Girls are often the first pulled out of school to help supplement the household income.

Girls may also be forced to leave school in order to shoulder some of the burden of increased household responsibilities. Girls may be expected to care for sick or injured relatives or to provide childcare for younger siblings when parents are traveling to collect aid or food.  Furthermore, drought, deforestation, and natural disasters often cause adolescent girls to spend more than half of their days looking for wood and clean water; this results in less regular school attendance.  When a girl is forced to leave school, not only is her education jeopardized, but she faces increased risk of early and unintended pregnancies, and HIV and other STIs.

The economic burden of climate change also increases a girl’s risk of early marriage. Many families arrange marriages for the “bride price” and to ease the burden of having to feed and care for girls. Early marriage often results in girls leaving school and increases the risk of early pregnancy.

In disaster situations, women and girls are more likely to experience all types of violence including sexual violence. Girls are at risk of sexual violence while staying in relief shelters, on the way to the shelters, and when collecting water or firewood while staying in a shelter.  Sexual violence leads to poor health consequences for its victims including unintended pregnancies, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and death. Also, because families perceive shelters as unsafe, girls may be left at home, making them unable to benefit from the reproductive health services offered there.

Programs and policies need to place a greater focus on the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change on the reproductive health of adolescent girls. In a recent report called “Weathering the Storm: Adolescent Girls and Climate Change,” Plan International makes the following programmatic and policy suggestions.

Programs should ensure that girls have: 

  1. Greater access to quality education
  2. Greater protection from gender-based violence  
  3. Greater participation in activities related adapting to climate change and reducing risk

Policies should:

  1. Prescribe gender-sensitive strategies for adapting to climate change
  2. Address gender inequality as a root cause of vulnerability to climate change

 

Last week, CNN.com and The New York Times posted an alarming story of a fourteen-year-old girl named Hena Akhter, from Bangladesh. Hena was accused of having an affair with a married man and died after being lashed in public as punishment.

According to Hena’s Sister, Hena was being pursued by her cousin, a man three times her age. Hena dismissed her cousin’s advances. But one evening while she was walking to an outdoor toilet, the cousin allegedly “gagged her with cloth, forced her behind nearby shrubbery and beat and raped her.” (CNN.com) Rather than being treated as a victim of a crime, Hena was accused of adultery. She was sentenced to 110 lashes, and her cousin was to receive 201 lashes and pay the family $1,000. The cousin escaped after a few whippings; Hena dropped to the ground after receiving 70. She was taken to the hospital, where she died a week later. Doctors reported that Hena committed suicide, a common occurrence among girls who have brought “shame to their family.” A public outcry spurred authorities to exhume her body and conduct a second autopsy, which found that Hena had died of internal bleeding that resulted from her injuries. The doctors who conducted the first autopsy will stand trial for submitting a false report.

This story is atrocious and shocking, and it illustrates the injustices that women and girls face as a result of harmful gender norms. For females, gender norms in many cultures include submissiveness, deference to male authority, dependence, virginity until marriage, and faithfulness during marriage. Norms for men, in contrast, are built around power and control, independence, not showing emotions, risk-taking, early sexual activity, and having multiple sexual partners. Such inequality limits young people’s control over their sexual and reproductive lives. That the perpetrator in this story might only have to pay $1,000 while Hena paid with her life is a tragic demonstration of how young women suffer as a result of deeply held gender norms.

To read more about this story see:

Only 14, Bangladeshi girl charged with adultery was lashed to death

When a Girl Is Executed… for Being Raped

To learn about programming to challenge harmful gender norms, visit the IYWG program area page: Gender Norms.

This blog entry was originally posted on Advocates for Youth’s blog, Amplify Your Voice.org. The author is “Berrybeauty,” an adolescent from Nigeria. 

A few days back, when I was passing my neighbor’s house in school, I saw a small crowd of people gathered, and as I walked closer, I noticed Ivy, my neighbor, in the middle of the crowd, crying seriously. I couldn’t help but try and find out what was going on: miss lover girl had been beaten by her lover again.

That is exactly what brought up this topic: CRAZY LOVE.

I still can’t bring myself to understand why a beautiful young lady would give her beautiful body to be brutally beaten daily by some hoodlum called LOVER. The most devastating part is, when she is asked why she remains in the relationship, the answer would be ‘I LOVE HIM.’

 

What?! Love? What does love have to do with violence, brutality, and pain? Back then, when I was a lot younger, I was taught that love is respect. So why would the same man that loves/respects you inflict any source of pain on you, especially physical pain. Well, I was also taught that a gentleman never hits a lady; guess that makes it more explainable: your so-called lover is not just irresponsible and arrogant but also doesn’t love you.

 

If you are reading this today and having a lover who hits you, do have a rethink, because that thing you may call love just might be hatred and disgust. And if you’re a guy who hits a lady, try as much as possible to control yourself, and if not, seek help, because violence destroys, not repairs.

A comment on intimate partner violence and gender-based violence from the IYWG: 

Globally, as many as one in every three females has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in some other way. In most countries, sexual abuse or rape by an intimate partner is not considered a crime. Approximately 10 to 15 percent of women and girls experience forced sex with their intimate partner. According to the UNFPA, gender-based violence includes dating and courtship violence, economically coerced sex, sexual abuse in the workplace, rape, sexual harassment, and forced prostitution. The damaging effects of intimate partner violence on the health of adolescent girls can include unwanted pregnancies, complications from frequent high-risk pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections (including HIV), and psychological harm.

 

To learn about working with adolescent victims of sexual violence, read Meeting the Needs of Young Clients: A Guide to Providing Reproductive Health Services to Adolescents. Chapter 7: Counseling Victims of Sexual Violence or Coercion, written by FHI.

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This blog is brought to you by the Interagency Youth Working Group (IYWG) with financial assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The content is managed by FHI, which functions as the secretariat for the IYWG.
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