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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.”

© 2007 Sean Hawkey, Courtesy of PhotoshareOne out of every eight people is a girl or young woman between the ages of 10 and 24 and approximately 600 million adolescent girls live in the developing world. Adolescent girls are among the most vulnerable people in the world; they face multiple inequalities and experience negative sexual and reproductive health outcomes. Every year 3 million girls are at risk of female genital cutting in Africa. Every day more than 25,000 girls under the age of 18 are married. Adolescent females are disproportionally affected by the HIV epidemic; females make up more than 60% of all young people living with HIV. Young women face high rates of early and unintended pregnancy, and childbirth-related complications are the number one cause of death among adolescent girls ages 15–19.

Along with myriad sexual and reproductive health challenges, adolescent girls also face multiple economic disparities. Of all out-of-school youth, 70% are girls. Globally, young women are less likely to be employed than young men and earn lower wages than young men. Furthermore, increased household responsibilities among adolescent girls hinder their ability to find work outside of the home and to attend school.

However, with the right skills and opportunities, girls are able to invest in themselves now and in their families later. When girls are able to stay in school, delay marriage, postpone pregnancy and reach their full potential, they and their families are better educated and healthier. By intervening to counter risks that exist and by promoting positive relationships and behaviors for girls, we are investing in the women and leaders of our future.

Research suggests that multisectoral program approaches to adolescent girl’s health and economic empowerment can improve negative outcomes. We can only do so much to improve access to education or build economic opportunities, for example, if we are not also helping protect young people from HIV, treating those living with HIV, or preventing early and unintended pregnancy. We must work toward a generation of young people healthy enough to enjoy the benefits they might reap from other development opportunities.

To discuss the importance of a multisectoral approach to adolescent girls’ health and well-being as well as to exchange knowledge across countries to inform and transform practice in this area, FHI 360 on behalf of the IYWG, with the Youth Health and Rights Coalition, and the Coalition for Adolescent Girls is hosting an e-forum “Girl-Centered Development: What Are We Really Doing?” Join moderators from USAID, Population Reference Bureau, Population Council, CARE, Advancing Girls’ Education in Africa, and ICRW February 27-28 and be a part of this pivotal conversation.

You can participate in the discussion—before, during, and after the e-forum—on Twitter (hash tag #girlsatthecenter)

Partner reduction has been identified as an important approach to reducing the risk of HIV transmission at the individual and population levels. Although young people report having multiple sexual partners, few HIV prevention programs for youth address this important driver of the HIV epidemic. This brings several critical questions to mind:

  •  How can the topic of multiple sexual partners be overlooked when young people admit to engaging in this risky behavior?
  • Why do young people engage in these risky sexual relationships?
  • How can youth program staff discuss this important topic without resources and activities to support their work?

These are some of the core questions that led to the development of Promoting Partner Reduction: Helping Young People Understand and Avoid HIV Risks from Multiple Partnerships (PPR). FHI 360 (on behalf of USAID’s IYWG) and ETR Associates created PPR to address a gap in resources. The late Dr. Doug Kirby was a major contributor to this document.

PPR is an evidence-based, participatory set of activities designed to positively affect young peoples’ knowledge, attitudes, values, and intentions to reduce multiple partnerships. The resource contains seventeen activities designed to address multiple partnerships in young people, with an emphasis on those that are overlapping or concurrent (sometimes referred to as “multiple concurrent partnerships” or MCP). The activities were developed with the input of experts around the world and were field-tested among young people in the United States, Botswana and Kenya, and recently piloted by programs in South Africa and Swaziland. Promoting Partner Reduction will help young people:

  • Learn why HIV spreads at different rates in monogamous, sequential, and concurrent sexual partnerships
  • Analyze the reasons why young people engage in multiple partnerships
  • Develop the intention to reduce their number of sexual partners
  • Practice skills to refuse engaging with concurrent partners
  • Examine the role that gender norms play in encouraging multiple partners

By moving beyond the simple message of “avoid multiple partners to protect oneself from HIV,” PPR provides a forum for young people to discuss complex topics such as transactional sex, partner reduction, intergenerational sex, gender and cultural norms, and behavior change through role plays, icebreakers, storytelling, and other engaging activities. Discussion questions and additional activities give special consideration to gender, sexual orientation, HIV status and participants’ experience with violence. Its participatory approach is designed to motivate young people to change their high-risk behaviors.

Results from a three-month pilot intervention found that youth program staff recognize a need for PPR, feel prepared to implement activities, intend to use it, and have a plan for integrating the activities into existing programs. The following quotes highlight their enthusiasm about the need for this new resource:

“Prior to the training, we did not have a specific tool that focuses on addressing partner reduction. It was not discussed in detail in our program.”
-FLAS

“This tool is so important to give out information to youth…whether in church, door to door, home-based, clinic or youth centre. We need this resource. “
-loveLife“

“Most youth living in urban areas or townships, they engage in MCP because they think it’s cool…even though they know the risks.”
-loveLife

Could your program benefit from this resource? Are there young people in your community engaging in multiple sexual partnerships? Perhaps PPR can help you get the conversation started about this often taboo and complicated topic. Promoting Partner Reduction is available electronically on the IYWG website, http://www.iywg.org. To order additional hard copies or a flash drive with a PDF of the publication, please write to youthwg@fhi360.org or to FHI 360, P.O. Box 13950, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709 USA.

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.

We’ve reached a milestone! The next issue of InfoNet we publish will be our 100th. We couldn’t let that slip by without a little fanfare.

Since November 2003, we’ve emailed InfoNet to approximately 5,000 subscribers all over the world. Each month, InfoNet provides information on the newest tools, curricula, briefs, reports, and peer-reviewed research articles about youth sexual and reproductive health in the developing world. We provide short abstracts of all the featured documents and link to them when we can. What could be more convenient?

But don’t just take our word for it. Recently, we conducted an evaluation of the IYWG’s knowledge management products, and here’s what a few respondents told us about InfoNet:

“As a technical advisor I need to be up to date to support field staff. InfoNet is my number one source of academic publications. I often send it to colleagues and use it for our organization’s journal club.”

 “I like InfoNet because it is my only way to get all of that information in one place and it’s great that you put it together for us.”

 “I started using the IYWG about 5-6 years back. I was receiving the newsletter [InfoNet] and visiting the website while I was completing my post-doctoral work and working with a youth group. I use it for doing research, preparing for conferences, developing intervention procedures. It is fantastic!”

Today, InfoNet is compiled by essentially the same team of people who put together the very first issue, and I want to take this opportunity to thank them for all of their work. Thanks also, to you, our readers, for your enthusiastic support of InfoNet!

If you are not subscribing to InfoNet and would like to, please visit our website (www.iywg.org) and look for the InfoNet signup link in the left-hand column. Also, if you would like to submit a publication to be featured in InfoNet, please write to us at youthwg@fhi360.org.
You can find back issues of InfoNet here.

This post, written by Amy Babchek from the Nike Foundation, originally appeared on the Girl Effect website and is available here.

Girls are finally on the agenda for family planning pledges, but misinformation about their needs and behavior stops girls getting access to the advice and resources they need for family planning. Amy Babcheck from the Nike Foundation is myth-busting.

At this year’s London Summit on Family Planning, global leaders pledged funds and resources for an additional 120 million women and girls by 2020. That’s right—girls. Adolescent girls and young women represent 26 million, or 20 percent, of that total, and that’s a major breakthrough.

Adolescent girls and young women in developing countries haven’t always been included when it comes to meeting family planning needs. Why? Because they become entangled in religious, political and cultural arguments, many of which are myths, yet still widely believed. Here are some of the worst…

MYTH: The world knows a lot about the situation of adolescent girls under the age of 15 when it comes to early sexual activity and early childbearing.

TRUTH: Publicly available information on the situation of very young adolescent girls ages 10-14 years is limited. Yet we know from secondary analysis that in 14 sub-Saharan African countries, 15 percent or more of girls reported having sex before their 15th birthday. And that’s just those who reported—the number is likely to be higher. A substantial proportion of sexual encounters involving very young adolescents are forced or coerced.

Want more details? Investing when it counts

MYTH: Adolescent girls understand their body, menstrual cycle, conception and contraception.

TRUTH: Cultural barriers make correct information about puberty and reproductive health and contraceptives inaccessible. Girls often feel shame and humiliation about their menstrual cycle, so even when they do know where or whom to ask questions, they don’t. This also affects their contraceptive use and ability to plan pregnancy. Because adolescent girls don’t understand their body well, they also don’t understand how they become pregnant or how to prevent pregnancy.

Want more details? Charting the future; Girls decide: choices on sex and pregnancy

MYTH: Adolescent girls who have correct information about and access to family planning (contraception) begin having sex earlier, and have more partners.

TRUTH: Girls who have access to information and contraception have a later age at sexual debut, are less likely to experience coerced sex (if they have built social assets), and are more likely to use contraception when they do have sex.

Want more details? Start with a girl: a new agenda for global health

MYTH (that we often hear from girls): Contraception makes girls infertile, gain weight, grow facial hair and/or get cancer.

TRUTH: Most contraception has no effect on girls’ fertility; some medically intensive methods (such as IUD, implants, etc.) need to be properly administered by a trained medical provider to be safe for girls and women.

Want more details? World Contraception Day: myths, rumours and rubbish

MYTH: All modern contraceptive methods work for adolescent girls.

TRUTH: Permanent sterilization is not an option. And girls want contraceptive methods that they can control, that they can keep very private and that are longer acting —but not permanent. Sex for girls is often out of their control, and when they can’t negotiate condom use to protect them from disease, they at least want to be protected from unwanted pregnancy. Girls don’t want to be seen acquiring or using contraceptives because, whether married or not, using contraceptives goes against cultural norms (girls shouldn’t have sex out of wedlock and should want babies once they are married). Girls often don’t have the means to regularly acquire contraceptives.

Want more details? Start with a girl: a new agenda for global health

MYTH: Girls who do access contraceptives are adequately informed about how to use them.

TRUTH: Girls often have misinformation or misunderstanding about how to properly use contraceptive methods, with the pill being among the most misunderstood.

Want more details? Facts on the sexual and reproductive health of adolescent women in the developing world

Commit your resources to girls and young women, the untapped accelerators of economic development, and by 2020 you will have unleashed the girl effect through access to contraceptives and family planning.

 

Melissa Adams is a Senior Program Officer for Research at Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health, and leads gender and youth initiatives including CycleSmart. The ongoing CycleSmart Kit research is made possible through support provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the terms of the Cooperative Agreement No. HRN-A-00-97-00011-00.

Guatemalan and Rwandan CycleSmart Brochure covers.

Guatemalan and Rwandan CycleSmart Brochure covers.

Adolescence presents a window of opportunity to intervene before most young people become sexually active and before gender roles and norms with negative sexual and reproductive health consequences become solidified. The knowledge, attitudes and skills acquired during the ages of 10 to 14 set the stage for future relationships and communication with sexual partners about rights and responsibilities and for developing self-care practices and behaviors to prevent unwanted sexual relationships, unintended pregnancy, and disease.

Research findings from IRH’s work in Rwanda and Guatemala suggest that girls and boys often begin puberty without sufficient information about their changing bodies and emerging fertility—information necessary to make critical decisions to protect their reproductive health.

As a result, IRH developed the CycleSmart Kit, a package of tools tailored to girls ages 10-14. It was developed and tested in collaboration with youth-serving organizations in Rwanda and Guatemala and is based on research conducted with adolescents, their parents, and their communities.  The Kit includes CycleBeads, (the color-coded beads typically used with the Standard Days Method of family planning that can also be a visual and tactile way of teaching girls about menstruation and fertility); a calendar; a weekly diary; reusable/washable sanitary napkins; and a country-specific brochure called CycleSmart, which includes topics like the menstrual cycle, puberty-related changes, risk of pregnancy, gender norms, and safety tips. Preliminary evaluation results show that the CycleSmart Kit is a useful tool for teaching boys and girls about puberty and fertility. [Download: English | Kinyarwanda | Spanish]

To provide parents, educators, youth-focused organizations, health providers, religious leaders and others with tips and resources on how to use the CycleSmart Kit and how to talk to boys and girls about puberty and fertility, we’ve created the user-friendly CycleSmart Kit Programmatic Guidelines.

 What are people saying about the CycleSmart Kit?

Contents of the CycleSmart Kit.

Contents of the CycleSmart Kit.

“This is an excellent project, it will help girls to prepare for their menstrual periods in advance, so they won’t be surprised or be absent from school because of periods anymore.” –Female parent from Rwamagana, Rwanda

“My mum used to ask me every day if I had moved the ring or if I had filled the diary, so I enjoyed it because she was closer to me and more concerned.”-Adolescent girl from Kicukiro, Rwanda

“Using [the CycleSmart Brochure] to discuss puberty changes with parents or teachers will make us confident to discuss such things with any person.”-Adolescent boy from Rwamagana, Rwanda

What’s next? 

IRH is working on adapting the CycleSmart Brochure for U.S.-based audiences. Stay tuned for more information!

 Learn more about IRH’s work designing and evaluating programs for VYAs in Rwanda. Contact irhinfo@georgetown.edu with questions.

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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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