Ending gender-based violence starts with empowering youth

Nov 24, 2023
Written by Natalie Fisher Spalton, Gender Technical Specialist, World Vision Canada

Every year, countries all over the world observe November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, marking the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism that concludes on International Human Rights Day on December 10. During this time in Canada, December 6 is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a major public health problem and one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. This issue knows no social, economic or national boundaries.

And it’s a problem that begins young. Approximately 15 million adolescent girls worldwide have experienced forced sex, according to the World Health Organization. Of those who have been in a relationship, almost one in four teen girls (24 per cent) have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner or husband.

To address and end this horrifically widespread problem, preventative action is key—and prevention needs to start from a young age.

The United Nations RESPECT framework offers steps for a public health and human rights approach to scaling up prevention of violence against women and girls programming. Preventing violence against women has seven evidence-informed strategies:

Relationship skills
Empowerment of women and girls
Services ensured
Poverty reduced
Environments made safe
Child and adolescent abuse prevented
Transformed attitudes, beliefs, and norms

Addressing and working to prevent sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is a World Vision priority.

Responding to gender-based violence in Tanzania

AHADI (Accelerated Hope and Development for Urban Adolescents in Tanzania) is a seven-year gender-transformative World Vision project that aligns with the RESPECT framework to prevent gender-based violence by working towards changing harmful social and gender norms that perpetuate gender inequality in urban areas of Tanzania.  

Funded by Global Affairs Canada, AHADI means “promise” in Swahili. World Vision Tanzania and World Vision Canada are partnering with adolescent girls and boys in and out of school to end violence, promote positive masculinities and gender equality, and ensure their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

To understand needs in communities, World Vision Tanzania conducted research in three cities including Dar es Salaam and Dodoma. They found 56.1 per cent of girls ages 10-14 accepted GBV as normal, and 46.2 per cent of girls ages 15-19 believed GBV was justified in certain situations.

Three adolescents stand together and smile.Loveness, Treasure, and Laila are adolescents in the AHADI project in Tanzania. These three individuals have become leaders in their communities, advocating for adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Parents often restrict teen girls’ freedom of movement as a means of protection to avoid potential harassment from boys and men. This social norm has implications for girls’ access to services, employment opportunities and building relationships outside their families. These practices and ways of thinking are shaped by norms of masculinity and the power afforded men in a patriarchal society.

AHADI takes a community-centred, holistic approach to addressing the underlying causes of these harmful social norms.

Building relationship skills

Through peer education, using a range of sports, games and role play, AHADI helps prevent GBV by strengthening  adolescent girls’ and boys’ communication and conflict resolution skills and promoting equitable decision-making in relationships. Gender-based violence is more likely to happen in relationships characterized by poor communication, high conflict, unequal power dynamics, controlling behaviour or where either partner holds attitudes or beliefs that condone violence in relationships.

Through peer education, using a range of sports, games and role play, AHADI is strengthening adolescent girls’ and boys’ interpersonal communication and conflict resolution skills and promoting equitable decision making in relationships.

Providing health and safety support

Responding to gender-based violence means working with a host of community members to ensure adequate support for survivors of SGBV.

As health services are among the first places survivors of gender-based violence seek assistance, AHADI is training health care workers in clinics in Dar es Salaam and Dodoma on SGBV to provide a range of adolescent and gender friendly assistance, including medical services and supplies, psychosocial services and referral to legal/police.

The project also provides training to key district actors such as social welfare officers, police gender desks on providing psychosocial support to the SGBV survivors.  Frontline workers including government officials, health workers, law enforcement, and Police Gender Desks are being supported to develop GBV and Violence Against Children (VAC) protection and GBV response.

Empowerment of women and girls

Gender-based violence is a manifestation of the low status that many girls and women occupy in society and in the household. When girls and women are socially-, economically-, psychologically- and politically-empowered, they face less risk of gender-based violence.

Thus, building girls’ self-confidence in self-efficacy, agency, assertiveness, and communication skills is a core part of AHADI. They also develop economic empowerment through training in entrepreneurship and employability skills. This is helping to build their economic literacy and reduce their financial dependence on men and other family members. Such empowerment strategies help adolescent girls to strengthen their bargaining power, confidence, decision-making autonomy and opportunities for the future.

The AHADI project is working with adolescent girls from marginalized and lower income wards of Dar es Salaam and Dodoma. This includes girls in school and out-of-school, including female sex workers, those who are unhoused and girls with disabilities.  

World Vision Tanzania is taking different approaches to address multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and inequalities recognizing that adolescent girls face particular risks and vulnerabilities because of power dynamics related to their age and gender.

Transformed attitudes, beliefs, and norms

Another key aspect of AHADI is  is working with fathers and adolescent boys to promote understanding and behaviour change around harmful gender norms. This approach, called MenCare, addresses intimate relationships and promotes shared decision-making and household responsibilities. 

Men in 75 wards, across different leadership roles and professionsare being trained as advocates who will engage with other men  for recognition of adolescent girls’ sexual and reproductive health rights and protection from violence.

Through WV Channels of Hope Gender, AHADI is also working with Christian and Muslim faith leaders to support their congregations to prevent and respond to SGBV.

Beyond AHADI

According to UN Women, one of the most effective approaches in empowerment training for adolescent girls involves intensive group-based social empowerment interventions delivered over a year or more.  Adolescents participate in AHADI groups for at least 18 months and will have the opportunity to continue with other options including entrepreneurship training, savings and loans groups and community gardens.

A young women clasps her hands together as she speaks.Laila, a lead adolescent volunteer, speaks out in her community about the reproductive and sexual health rights of adolescents. 

“AHADI is already helping us a lot. The confidence I have now is not something I had before the project. I am able to be a Lead Adolescent Volunteer and speak with the adolescents in my group, quickly putting into practice what I have learned,” shares Laila, a young woman who has become a leader and advocate in her community.

Addressing violence against women and girls is critical to realizing women’s rights and achieving gender equality. AHADI provides a gender transformative, rights-based approach to scaling up prevention of violence against women and girls and fulfillment of their sexual and reproductive health, dignity, security, and autonomy.

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