In 2002, the World Health Organization estimated that 150 million girls and 75 million boys worldwide experienced sexual violence before the age of 18. Research shows that consequences of the sexual violence epidemic in children include increased risk of contracting HIV, as well as myriad debilitating mental health problems that affect social behaviors, education opportunity, emotional well-being, and overall quality of life. Considering the potentially dire outcomes, how can countries effectively prevent the perpetration of sexual violence? How can we better understand the nature and circumstances of this under-reported epidemic in order to mobilize a response? How can national governments, civil society and development partners -- including the U.S. government -- better allocate resources to target the root causes of this issue? The answers are in the works.
The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) acknowledges the importance of addressing sexual violence against girls as a global epidemic that connects directly to the spread of HIV/AIDS and is proud to collaborate with a groundbreaking partnership called Together for Girls. Together for Girls was launched in September 2009 at the annual meeting for the Clinton Global Initiative as a movement to end sexual violence. Together for Girls focuses on three pillars:
(1) conducting and supporting national surveys on the magnitude and impact of violence against children, particularly focused on sexual violence against girls;
(2) supporting coordinated program actions in response to the data; and
(3) leading global advocacy and public awareness efforts to draw attention to the problem and promote evidence-based solutions.
In addition, developing and strengthening the capacity of individuals and institutions are important cross-cutting elements of the partnership. Working with governments and civil society, the Together for Girls model builds on existing programs and platforms wherever possible to integrate the issue of sexual violence into social welfare, health, education, and justice programs.
Led by Michele Moloney-Kitts, the former Assistant U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, the public-private partnership connects organizations including the U.S. Department of State's Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator/PEPFAR, the Office of Global Women's Issues, CDC Office of Violence Prevention, the Nduna Foundation, BD, the CDC Foundation, Grupo ABC, and five United Nations agencies, UNICEF, UNAIDS, UN Women, UNFPA and WHO. The partnership generates a powerful advocacy platform to stop sexual violence by supporting countries' efforts to fully understand and cope with the scope of the epidemic. As a result, policy and programmatic strategies can be better tailored to address the underlying social determinants of the problem, and responsive interventions can better support survivors. Together for Girls also engages with men and boys as part of the response and equally recognizes that boys also experience the nightmare of physical and sexual violence, with the same potential for negative short and long-term health consequences. The partnership highlights girls, however, because in so many parts of the world they are two to three times more likely than boys to experience sexual violence.
In line with these efforts, the Government of Tanzania, with support from Together for Girls partners UNICEF and CDC, recently released a report on their National Study on Violence against Children (August 2011) and a national action plan to address the issues raised in the survey. The report is the one of the first national-level endeavors in Africa to assess conditions and prevalence of sexual, physical and emotional violence among girls and boys. Questioning 3,739 female and male Tanzanians between the ages of 13 and 24, results revealed staggering rates of violence against children -- especially girls. For instance, 27.9 percent of girls and 13.4 percent of boys reported at least one incident of sexual violence before the age of 18. One in four girls reported that their first sexual experience was forced. Emotional abuse in the home and physical abuse in schools, such as the 78 percent of girls and 67.4 percent of boys who report having been punched, kicked, or whipped over five times by a teacher in school, also highlighted areas for potential interventions.
Recently, Ministers and Deputy Ministers from seven ministries that interface with issues of children and violence, along with civil society, released the results of the survey and launched the corresponding national action plan for Tanzania. Each ministry and civil society committed to undertake specific actions to address particular areas that were raised.
The process provides new insight into underlying mental, physical, and sexual violence factors as a means to strengthen Tanzania's national agenda for education, health, justice, social welfare, and police response.
Daniela Ligiero, Ph. D., Senior Advisor for Gender at the State Department's Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, represented PEPFAR at the Government of Tanzania launch of its effort.
Dr. Ligiero explains the significance of this process: "The high-level participation in the launch of the survey data, and the bold commitments made by the government are a true turning point for Tanzania -- putting them at the cutting edge of dealing with violence against children. We believe that one of the strongest contributions the U.S. Government can make through Together for Girls is to use data to strengthen and expand effective, evidence-based programming to address sexual violence against girls using our health platforms." The partnership is a promising strategy to end violence against children worldwide.
For more information on the Together for Girls Partnership, please visit www.togetherforgirls.org.