Standing for a Safe World Where Women and Girls Achieve Anything Without Fear
by Lindsay Morris, Girl Rising
Imagine this. A young girl sits in a dusty Cairo police station with her mother and two officers. She is hesitant as she gathers the courage to tell her story but, as she begins, she paints herself as a superhero; rather than a victim of kidnapping and sexual assault, she becomes a powerful figure who defeats her hateful nemesis. Though she can neither read nor write, Yasmin wields her voice and holds the officers’ rapt attention as she tells her harrowing story throughout the afternoon. As is so often the case, Yasmin's attacker was never brought to justice. Instead, Yasmin's parents arranged for her marriage to an older man, hoping to protect her from further sexual violence. She was only 13.
This story is at once heartbreaking and compelling. For many of us, it is unthinkable. But this instance does not exist as one horror story or rare event, specific to a particular city, country or family. For millions of girls around the world, gender-based-violence is a day-to-day reality. According to the World Health Organization, 35% of all women have experienced violence in their lives. But gender-based violence includes more than sexual assault. The United Nations defines GBV as any “act physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women” in public or private life, including restrictions on individual rights. GBV is a major reason 62 million girls who should be in school, are not.
Aside from being a violation of the basic human rights that girls everywhere are entitled to, GBV has measurable consequence for girls, their families, and communities. Violence proves detrimental to physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health leading to unplanned pregnancies, increased infant and child mortality rates, higher rates of HIV/AIDS transmission and even suicide.
Education is a key player in the fight against gender-based-violence, because the inability to access education both generatesand results in GBV. Due to long solitary walks to school over isolated roads and schools that lack toilets -- driving girls outside where they face a higher risk of sexual assault and harassment -- girls are at risk of GBV in and around school; in turn, sexual violence and GBV result in poor performance, irregular attendance, and high dropout rates, preventing girls from moving beyond primary education. Low education, however, also predisposes individuals to becoming both victims and perpetrators of gender-based-violence. Ensuring girls’ safe access to school, therefore, remains central to breaking cycles of violence against them; ending GBV is a step towards securing equal and universal access to safe, quality education for all.
When girls attend school they not only learn vital academic skills, they also receive key services and community support that empower them for years to come. Schooling provides girls with economic freedom (an extra year of primary school boosts girls’
eventual wages by 10 to 20%), improved health, and brighter futures. Educated girls also are less likely to become victims of domestic violence and more likely to be aware of their rights.
October 11th is International Day of the Girl (IDG). This year, through the theme of Empowering Adolescent Girls and Ending Cycles of Violence, the Girl Rising community plans to pour its heart into raising awareness about GBV. We not only want to share Yasmin's story, but we want to help prevent the perpetuation of gender-based-violence to all girls like her. We know that educated girls are empowered girls, and educating girls changes the entire world.
Join forces with us this October: advocate against GBV, fight violence against women and be bold for girls. By simply writing a Facebook post, snapping a photograph or hosting a screening in your community, you can become partners with Girl Rising and take a powerful step towards ending gender-based-violence for good. Learn more and find out how you can get involved atgirlrising.com/idg-2014.
Lindsay Morris heads Media Communications at Girl Rising.