Experiences of violence during childhood have lifelong adverse effects in terms of physical and mental health, social outcomes, educational attainment and financial well-being. Concerningly, childhood exposure to violence increases the risk of further exposure to violence later on in life. Goal 16.2 of the U.N. 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development strives to “end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against, and torture of, children.” Although both male and female children have equivalent risks of enduring physical abuse and neglect, girls face a higher risk of experiencing sexual abuse, the World Health Organization highlights. The impact of violence against children, and especially girls, has ripple effects across society. Beyond impacts on the immediate family, the consequences of violence against girls and women extend to communities and the country at large. The Borgen Project reached out to Mia Mazer, Policy and Advocacy Officer at Together for Girls, to provide insight into the organization’s commitments to end violence against children and adolescents, with a special focus on sexual violence.
When was your organization founded and what does it aim to achieve?
Founded in 2009, Together for Girls (TfG) is a global partnership working to end violence against children and adolescents, particularly sexual violence against girls and other vulnerable populations. The partnership pays special attention to the gendered dimensions of violence and its impact on health, education and human rights.
Active in 23 countries, the partnership includes survivor activists, civil society, national governments, United Nations entities and the world’s foremost leaders in global health, gender equity, development and violence prevention and response. Through data and advocacy, TfG drives action to break cycles of violence and ensure prevention, healing and justice.
How does supporting girls worldwide contribute to completing your organization’s overall mission?
Anywhere between 4% and 35% of girls experience sexual violence in childhood. Children and youth who experience violence are at higher risk of health and social problems such as chronic disease, mental health issues, substance abuse and violence perpetration later in life. Violence can also lead to a higher risk of HIV and become a barrier to receiving appropriate HIV care and treatment.
Supporting girls worldwide is fundamental to decreasing these risks and increasing protective factors that lessen the likelihood of girls, and all children, experiencing violence. This is at the core of Together for Girls’ work — we believe ending violence is essential to promoting and achieving individual rights, well-being, gender equality and sustainable development.
What is the best example you’ve seen of your organization’s work making a difference in girls’ lives around the globe?
The Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS) are the global gold standard in data collection to understand violence against children and adolescents ages 13-24. Led by national governments with technical assistance and support from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the surveys are implemented as part of the Together for Girls (TfG) partnership.
The VACS is the largest global data source for violence against children, adolescents and youth worldwide. These nationally representative, population-based household surveys generate a wide range of groundbreaking information about multiple forms of violence (sexual, physical and emotional). Findings from VACS provide reliable evidence to enable countries to make better decisions about allocating limited resources to develop, launch and evaluate violence prevention programs and child protection systems.
Catalyzed by VACS data, at least 13 countries have added or amended existing child safety laws and/or regulations; 12 countries have banned corporal punishment and 10 countries have banned child marriage.
Additionally, VACS data informs the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) programming, especially the DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe) program to empower and support adolescent girls and young women and prevent HIV infections, including through gender-based violence prevention and response, by providing a deeper understanding of the magnitude, nature and consequences of violence. In 2022 alone, DREAMS reached 2.9 million girls through its HIV prevention services and programs, playing a critical role in continuing to reduce the burden of HIV among vulnerable populations.
What message would you like to send to advocates who are passionate about supporting girls globally?
Survivors are powerful. The meaningful inclusion, participation and leadership of survivor advocates is necessary to ending violence against children and adolescents and supporting girls globally. Survivor voices are imperative to shifting social norms so that sexual violence is better understood, prioritized and prevented.
We’ve seen the impact of survivors coming forward to share their stories, break the silence and demand a safer future. The Brave Movement, proudly hosted by Together for Girls, is a survivor-led global movement campaigning for the right of all children and adolescents to live a life in safety and dignity, free from sexual violence. Their collective voices drive action for prevention, healing and justice around the world. At Together for Girls, we know that by centering survivor voices, we can create transformational change.
– Photo: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health