To Prevent Abuse, Young People Must Know their Rights

Content note – this post refers to sexual violence and suicide.

Recently, a Twitter user named @twadi_doll shared her story fearlessly and curtly online – giving many people a reality check and leaving them feeling shaken.

Twadi narrated in her thread that at 13 years – orphaned and young – she found herself living with a pastor and his wife.

A respected…no, scratch that…a revered member of society, the man of God raped Twadi her on a regular basis. On other occasions, he would call his friends and they took turns exploiting her body. As if that wasn’t enough, the pastor would ask her constantly to seek forgiveness from God, for making him commit a sin.  

Since she had nowhere to go and was being blackmailed by the pastor for receiving food and shelter from him for 3 years, Twadi couldn’t escape the reach of the preacher’s hand. Even when she spoke out in church, she was called a liar and a demon who had been sent to tempt and disorganise the pastor in his job of shepherding the Lord’s people.

As a result of the continued sexual abuse, Twadi became pregnant and 6 months later, her teachers learnt of her story and offered her immediate support. They opened a case against the pastor, who in shame committed suicide. An abortion was arranged for Twadi and painful as it was, she took the option because she had long decided that either the baby dies or she commits suicide herself.

Twadi’s story calls upon us all to play our part in improving SRHR information and service access to young people.

This lack of access spirals into multiple other challenges, and sadly, it is the young person who suffers. Their untapped potential is heavily undermined.

For starters, we should always be able to come out and condemn what is wrong, no matter the position or reputation of the person in question. The pastor’s wife, years later after her husband’s death, wrote Twadi a letter saying she knew about the abuse the whole time, but found it better than her man going out to cheat. In Twadi’s own words, “she used me as a glue to hold her marriage together.” The pastor’s wife betrayed and failed Twadi, and her suffering falls as equally on her shoulders as it does on the pastor’s.

We need to pay special attention to young people’s voices on their reproductive health concerns with as open a mind as possible.

Sometimes we can’t understand young people by assuming we know who they are and what they want, especially if we aren’t young people ourselves. The pastor’s congregation was way off course in this case, defending the pastor simply because of his position and ignoring the truth Twadi was telling.

If even one of them had taken time to hear her out, it could have changed her fortune. We should seek virtual spaces where young people are free to talk about their challenges with no fear of judgement, and where they are sure they will be believed and helped.

It is critical that we provide young people with information on their rights so that they can know when to say no, how to say it and how to defend themselves against manipulation and abuse.

The more we starve young people of such information, the more we make them vulnerable to attacks and abuse and the multiple challenges that ripple from those.

Finally, we need to work with stakeholders who can put policies in place to ease the combatting of these challenges. In Uganda, for example, we have been advocating for an operational School Health Policy where we can provide sexual and reproductive health and rights information to young people that fits the context we live in.

Such a document is key, because then we can arm young people with knowledge, and we will have the backing of the law. It is something that policy makers and governments should consider, lest we see more young people come out with stories similar to Twadi’s.

This selfless story should be an eye opener.

Many young people are undergoing such horrific challenges, and the veils of religion and culture, which otherwise should be guiding us to a sane and loving society, are being used as defences and barriers against SRHR access. Such incidents are indeed present in our society and the best we can do is speak out against them, bring the perpetrators to justice and provide young people with information and services so that they can make informed decisions and protect themselves.

PS: Twadi has moved on and is strong now. However, is that what we want, for all young people to become strong like her and move on? Or is it better to stamp abuse out once and for all? Something must change in our communities, right here and right now.

A Beginner’s Guide to Stopping Time

This piece was written by Julia Z. – a high school student from the United States of America. All opinions are her own.

We hear our grandparents say it. Preach it. Sitting around a crackling fire surrounded by family. Those wise with age warn those who listen eagerly – live while you’re young, enjoy every moment, time moves so fast. We hear the poets telling us to seize the day. Time is an enigmatic topic that attracts scholars, academics, and even inexperienced teenagers like myself. Is it possible that when people tell us to seize the day, they really are warning us to retain our innocence for as long as the universe will allow?

Innocence is lost when the weight of the world is suddenly shifted onto the shoulders of an unsuspecting child. Burden, struggle, and responsibility are what make you transform from an innocent child to an adult who wears stress on his or her face like a child wears a smile.

What I am describing hit me on a recent trip to Ethiopia. Accompanying my aunt, who works on adolescent girls programming with the International Rescue Committee and is the Co-Chair of the Coalition for Adolescent Girls, I received the chance to observe first-hand what humanitarians do. More importantly, I experienced how their work impacts girls. I had the chance to observe a program called Girl Empower, which is true to its name. This program educates in order to empower girls. It includes training mentors who teach a curriculum about a woman’s health, her body, and her choices. This program opens discussions about topics that previously were difficult for girls to discuss: menstruation, gender-based violence, and harmful traditional practices. I was there for the girls’ graduation from this program, and it was amazing to see their emotion, their passion, and their happiness. By providing a safe space for girls to be girls, the program gave these girls something incredibly precious: time

Girl Empower stopped time, something physicists and cosmologists have been trying to figure out for centuries. Girls who were supposed to be married by age 15 were now equipped to be able to have safe, informed conversations with their parents and to make their own decisions. Their parents, who had been through a 10-12 month curriculum and participated in discussions about empowering their daughters, claimed they now knew about the negative effects of early marriage, such as dropping out of school, giving birth too young, and perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Whether or not this enlightenment will spread to future generations or even the girls in the town who were not part of the program, I don’t know. Sustainability of humanitarian programs in general is not guaranteed, but IRC is working diligently to build capacity of the community and support community ownership of the program, not just for the participants but also for future generations of girls.  Will these positive affirmations and lessons spread to others and continue spreading? Only the community can assure that.

The reason this program is impressive to me is not the long-term effects, but the brief intervention of the rapid maturing of these girls. For the year or so these girls are in the program they get a chance to breathe. They won’t marry early during this program (as parents agreed upon). So they are not somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother, somebody’s cook, somebody’s water fetcher. During this program they are just girls being educated, discussing difficult topics more openly, and learning about themselves and their potential. Their innocence is preserved, they understand what it means to be their own person, and they are not forced to grow up as fast as they would have otherwise.

There is hope that the lessons these girls learned about protecting themselves emotionally and physically will carry on beyond the life of the project. The power of knowledge, enlightenment, and time to think should not be underestimated. I hope that independently these girls will take what they learned and use it to empower their sisters, friends, and, eventually, daughters. Knowledge is cyclical; it can flow from generation to generation, and over time the community as a whole will benefit. Education radiates outwards from one source and can change the lives of many. The girls lucky enough to participate in this program can take what they have learned and educate others. Maybe, just as IRC did for them, these girls can stall the rapid maturing of other girls in their community. The future is female and one empowered girl can have a greater impact than you might think.

Photo Credit: Noah Silliman

Girl Up Teen Advisors on the World in 2030

When we think about young people in relation to the Agenda 2030, what often comes to mind is that they will be beneficiaries of the development goals. However, young people are proving time and time again that they are not just recipients of change but are driving change in their own right. They are active decision makers in the development process and are making huge contributions to co-create the world they want and need.

Girls’ Globe bloggers had the opportunity to meet with and speak to Girl Up Teen Advisors from who are committed to girls’ and women’s empowerment and working to support the empowerment of girls BY girls.

Some of the questions we explored with them include:

  1. How old they would be in 2030? How they hope the world would change by then?
  2. What do they think girls really need?
  3. Which of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) do they feel mostly strongly about?
  4. What will they be doing to advance the particular goal they feel strongly about?

We hope they will not only inspire you but give you hope in the implementers and successors of the development agenda.

 

 

Cover photo: Zayira Ray / Girls’ Globe

The Truth About Adolescent Boys

What do we know about boys? A new publication by Promundo and UNFPA highlights the importance of engaging young men in gender equality and in sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Promundo and UNFPA launched a new report today, Adolescent Boys and Young Men: Engaging Them as Supporters of Gender Equality and Health and Understanding their Vulnerabilities, that takes a deeper look at the daily lives of adolescent boys and young men around the world, and how they can join the movement towards improved health and gender equality.

Exploring global research, the report reveals boys’ and young men’s specific risks and realities in relation to health in general, sexual and reproductive health in particular, sexuality, media violence, sexual exploitation, and other vulnerabilities. It analyzes the implications of these risks and realities not only for boys, but also on the lives of women and girls.

Adolescence is a key period where individuals of all gender identities form attitudes, opinions and beliefs – about themselves, about their sexuality, and about their place in the world. It is a period when ideas about equality can become ingrained. The report emphasizes that a holistic approach to advancing gender equality and sexual and reproductive health must include both adolescent girls and boys. It highlights the need to engage adolescent boys and young men as allies to achieve gender equality and as supporters of women’s empowerment, as well as the importance of addressing the specific health and social development needs of boys themselves.

Key Findings:

  • General Health: Harmful definitions of manhood and masculinity increase young men’s needless vulnerability to premature morbidity and mortality. Young men under 25 are three times more likely than young women to die of a traffic-related injury.
  • Sexuality: Many boys, in numerous settings, question traditional sexual “scripts” and report longing for intimate contact and connection more than they do sexual conquest. This may have benefits in the long-run, as men with more gender-equitable attitudes are more likely to report that they are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their sexual relationship with their primary partner.
  • Sexual and Reproductive Health: Gender norms and sexual scripts place pressure on young men to embody unhealthy versions of masculinity. In many countries, a majority of adolescent males aged 15-19 have engaged in risky, non-marital sexual behavior in the past year.
  • Experiences of Sexual Violence: Stereotypical definitions of masculinity that hinder boys’ help-seeking, as well as deep-seated homophobia, make it difficult for boys to speak out against abuse and sexual exploitation. While women and girls experience the majority of sexual violence, some estimates indicate that one in seven boys experiences sexual violence as a child.
  • Education: Studies have found that boys feel that asking for help and doing well in school is a “girl thing”; they may feel pressure to drop out of school to earn an income to support the family, and they lack male role models in the classroom. Boys are more likely to repeat a primary grade than girls in 90 of 113 countries where data is available.
  • Mental Health: Men are often poor mental health help-seekers, and health systems are less likely to invite them or reach out to them. Poor mental health is among the leading causes of the global burden of disease for adolescents aged 10-19.
  • Media: The media – which includes television shows, films, music, and advertisements – reinforces ideas about hyper-masculinity in which men are rewarded for aggression, toughness, and misogyny. In the United States, almost 21 percent of high school students aged 10 to 18 reported having been cyber-bullied in their lifetime.

Building on this data, the report reviews concrete ways to work with adolescent boys and young men on sexual and reproductive health services, comprehensive sexuality education, fatherhood and caregiving, and the elimination of violence against women and girls, as well as how a masculinity lens contributes to understanding youth violence prevention in general.

Some Strategies:

  • Talk About Gender: Programs that address gender or power are five times as likely to be effective in achieving improved sexual and reproductive health outcomes.
  • Redefine Norms: Comprehensive sexuality education and violence prevention programming in schools or communities can be thought of as a space to redefine gender norms and to question other cross-cutting inequalities, such as those based on ethnicity, social class, or sexual orientation.
  • Improve Access to Services: Engage boys in sexual and reproductive health services (e.g., screenings; clinical diagnosis and treatment; and information, education and counseling) as an entry point to question harmful masculinities.
  • Implement Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Comprehensive sexuality education is an essential approach to remaking and reinforcing gender-equitable norms in connection to health.
  • Harness the Power of Media: The media reinforces ideas about hyper-masculinity in which men are rewarded for aggression, toughness, and misogyny – but it can also be used for positive change.

Read more of the report’s findings here, and learn how everyone, including adolescent boys and young men, stand to reap lifelong benefits when they are engaged in a more holistic approach to gender equality and in sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Tell us what you think! Join the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #AboutBoys and following @Promundo_US and @UNFPA.

 

Originally published on Promundo Global