Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence

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11 October 2014 is International Day of the Girl Child

The theme of this year’s International Day of the Girl Child is ending the cycle of violence. Although significant progress has been made in ensuring that girls and boys globally have access to universal primary education, millions of girls around the world continue to live with violence in their homes, schools and communities.

The United Nations’ Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines violence against women as: “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”. Gender-based violence is violence directed towards individuals and/or groups based on their actual or perceived gender identity.

Girls in the Commonwealth are no exception to this violence. In fact, drawing from UN Women’s most recent data compiled in 2012 from country level surveys on violence against women, it is evident that the magnitude of this issue is understated.

According to the available data, the percentage of women and girls in Commonwealth countries who have experienced sexual or physical violence in their lifetime by an intimate partner or a non-partner, ranges from as low as 29.5% in one country in Africa to as high as 62.2% in another, from 9.2% to 35.4% in Asia, and from 39.5% to 75.7 % in the Pacific. Currently, there is no similar data available for the Caribbean region of the Commonwealth.

It may be surprising to some that despite advances in women’s empowerment and gender equality in the Global North, women and girls continue to experience violence. In Canada, half of all women have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16. Furthermore, 67% of all Canadians say they personally know at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted.

The theme of this year’s International Day of the Girl Child is a welcome one, as it brings to light the fact that women and girls across various ethnic groups, socio-economic classes and education levels experience violence all around the world. This tells us that providing women and girls with greater access to resources and opportunities, including learning opportunities, is only one part of addressing the problem of violence.

According to a World Health Organisation multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence against women, risk factors for being both a perpetrator of violence and prey to violence are “low education” levels and “attitudes accepting of violence and gender inequality”.

We shall be inspired by the recent awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to education activist Malala Yousafzai, who experienced gender-based violence from the Taliban because she was a girl who attended school. Despite almost losing her life from this incident, she has risen up and passionately advocates for the right of all children to education. Her award highlights the international commitment to gender equality and elimination of discrimination against girls.

To prevent gender-based violence from happening in the first place, we need to go back to basics. Evidently, even in the Global North, where certain human entitlements such as the right to education are taken for granted, there is still a need to challenge and change gender stereotypes, norms and behaviours that perpetuate violence and gender inequality. Teachers, community members, religious leaders and parents need to be able to identify gender-based violence and be courageous enough to take a stand against it.


Canadian Women’s Foundation. (2014). The Facts About Violence Against Women.
Retrieved from www.canadianwomen.org

Statistics Canada. (1993). The Violence Against Women Survey.
Retrieved from http://www23.statcan.gc.ca/imdb/p2SV.pl?Function=getSurvey&SDDS=3896&Item_Id=1712

Canadian Women’s Foundation. (2012). Angus Reid Omnibus Survey.
Retrieved from www.canadianwomen.org/facts-about-violence?gclid=CLW2rY6poMECFYGTfgod1wgAcA

United Nations.(1993). UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/violenceagainstwomen.aspx

UN Women. (2012). Violence against Women Prevalence Data: Survey by Country.
Retrieved from www.endvawnow.org/uploads/browser/files/vawprevalence_matrix_june2013.pdf

World Health Organisation. (2013). Violence against women: Intimate partner and sexual violence against women Fact sheet N°239.
Retrieved from www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs239/en/

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