By Pi James
NEW YORK, 11 March 2013 – On the eve of International Women’s Day, a panel of five experts representing academia, government, civil society and the United Nations called for an end to violence against girls through better and earlier monitoring and interventions, improved education systems, and a coordinated multi-sectoral response.
Millions of girls are vulnerable to violence around the world, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta said, opening the UNICEF-convened side event Girls Growing up Free of Violence: Promoting tolerance, equality and respect for the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, in New York.
“Violence against girls is truly a cross-sectoral issue, and we are committed to working together towards a day when girls and women can live free of violence,” Ms. Rao Gupta said.
“Eight is too late”
Panelist Cassie Landers from Columbia University stressed that violence is more frequent in families with young children, with those under 4 years old at greatest risk of severe injury or death – so intervening early is crucial.
“We know that violence against young children under 5 is prevalent and has severe long-term consequences,” Ms. Landers said. “Fear becomes embedded into a child’s body.
“One of the greatest lessons we have learned is that intervening as early as possible is so much more effective than waiting until later on. By [age] 8 is too late.”
Education empowers and supports peace
Former child soldier, advocate and author Grace Akallo, who, at 15 years old, was abducted by rebels and forced to serve in Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, told the other panelists that education was key to her survival.
“If I’d not fought for my own right to go to school, I wouldn’t be sitting here,” Ms. Akallo said. “If you educate a girl, you’re not just educating her – the whole of society benefits from her education.”
“If we don’t protect children, if we don’t give them quality education, if we don’t give them love, we won’t achieve whatever we’re fighting for, we won’t achieve the peace that we are trying to bring,” she added.
Panelist H.E. Sophia Simba, Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children for the United Republic of Tanzania, agreed: “Education has become key to making sure girls are not submissive to the violence.”
Working together for a peaceful future
H.E. Ms. Simba also highlighted the importance of taking a multi-sectoral approach and including men and boys, which had been very effective in programmes implemented in the United Republic of Tanzania.
Sajeda Amin of the Population Council emphasized the need for better data and monitoring systems, as well as improved education systems.
“Schools have to lead the way in providing protective and productive assets to girls,” she said.
UNICEF invited Irma van Dueren from the Government of the Netherlands to close the event.
Ms. van Dueren said that, more than simply supplying resources, donors can also partner on programmes, citing the new UNICEF Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy programme. The programme is focusing on, amongst other interventions, the prevention of violence against girls in 13 countries with the support of the Government of the Netherlands.
“Apart from just providing funding, donors can also be a partner – a partner in developing programmes, and a partner in developing messages around human rights,” she said.
Ms. Rao Gupta wrapped up with a final message: “This is our collective shame…wherever we come from, we have to take responsibility for ending this scourge.”
For more information on UNICEF’s work on violence in the new Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy programme, visit: http://www.unicef.org/education/bege_65480.html.