On October 15th, the US actress Alyssa Milano sent out a tweet containing a hashtag that immediately went viral in the wake of reports of an ‘open secret’ of predatory behaviour in Hollywood. #MeToo.
Read the report: Unlock the Power of Girls Now The aim was to show the scale of the problem of sexual harassment and assault and the inability many have felt in speaking out. The majority of responses have been from the global north, in countries which have laws in place to protect against abuse and assault, yet the problems seem to be, if not accepted, seen as inevitable.
According to UNICEF, a large share of girls and women report they were first sexually victimised as adolescents, between the ages of 15 and 19. However, girls report incidents of sexual violence at even younger ages, and it is estimated that up to 50% of sexual assaults worldwide are committed against girls aged under 16.
Abuse is universal - but girls are most affected
Violence directed at girls and women by an intimate partner is the most common form of gender-based violence. One in three (approximately 84 million) adolescent girls in formal unions aged 15-19 worldwide have been victims of emotional, physical or sexual violence committed by their husbands or partners at some point in their lives.
According to WHO, an estimated 120 million girls globally – approximately 1 in 10 - have been victims of sexual violence, including rape or other forced sexual acts.
When considering the fact that some of the countries we work in have a child marriage rate of up to 76% (Niger), the magnitude of the problem becomes apparent. Child marriage is, in itself, an act of gender-based violence and in almost all cases leads to physical and sexual violence with serious consequences on a girls’ life, health and wellbeing.
Our latest research report, Unlock the Power of Girls Now, has attempted to provide suggestions for how to tackle the deep-rooted inequality and discrimination that allow violence to flourish by listening to the young people across the globe whose lives are so frequently restricted by it.
Listening to young people is key
Violence and the fear of violence dominated the findings of our research. In Central America, for example, girls felt pressured to take part in sexual activities with their boyfriends and did not feel safe walking to school.
Where boys in Colombia discussed the threat and fact of physical violence on the streets and the issue of gangs and drugs, girls talked about the threat of sexual violence, rape and sexual harassment that they face each day.
Young Colombians are aware that violence also happens in spaces which politicians and the state find hard to reach, and reported wanting community elders and public institutions to support campaigns against domestic violence. It was acknowledged that although personal initiatives, like challenging violent behaviour at home and at school, are important it is vital, also, to go public.
“If I were the mayor, I would enforce the law forbidding violence against women. If people do not respect the law, they will be punished,” said Cindy, 15, from Colombia.
Norms that allow violence must be challenged
Young people gave other helpful suggestions as to how we can tackle the social norms that allow violence. Both girls and boys in the research identified the critical importance of intergenerational discussions on gender and the effect of learning from elders:
“I think that above all there are people who still have a mentality from the past. They will be like that until someone in their family says ‘no, that is not correct, we need to change’, otherwise it will just go on,” said Mario, 15, from Spain.
“Adults are fundamental in the construction of our lives and personalities. If there are adults who think and act with gender equality… young people will feel more confident,” said Vivian, 14, from Colombia.
Interestingly, as part of our research, young people, especially in Spain, identified how social media spaces such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, could drive change: if used as spaces where gender equality issues could be discussed and information could be shared - much like has happened via the #MeToo campaign.
The right to a life free of violence
All children and young people have the fundamental human right to live free from all forms of violence and abuse, and Plan International is committed to ensuring this right is upheld.
Our latest research has shown that social norms which value girls and women less than men and boys and support notions of male power and female subordination, render girls across the globe particularly exposed to violence.
This, in turn, restricts their freedom, expectations and ambitions and hinders them from achieving their full potential.
Young people have spoken, and the overwhelming consensus is that as well as strengthening and enacting the laws in place, changing the deep-rooted norms and attitudes that normalise and excuse violence against girls and women is critical to ending gender-based violence across the globe.
Read the report
Learn more by reading the full report: Unlock the Power of Girls Now