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Telling a Different Story: Standing Strong in Resisting Gender-Based Violence

Posted 25 November 2023 in EMpower News   |   Share

Look around your office, look around your local park, look around your local café or restaurant—one in three women around you and in the world have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Violence is a problem that affects women and girls everywhere. Global evidence demonstrates that the key driver of violence against women and girls is gender inequity, and we know this is ever present for anyone who is both female and young. But it gets worse. The most egregious forms of gender inequity are present when you are female, young, and poor.

Therefore, it is no surprise that to be young, female, and poor also means you are disproportionately more likely to experience one or more type of gender-based violence. So, now we know who we are talking about, let’s talk about the hideous manifestations of violence. The four most commonly referred to types of violence include: economic violence, emotional/verbal violence, physical violence, and sexual violence. 

The poor, young, female population are the most likely to experience one or more types of violence, to experience the most extreme forms of gender inequity; and they are also the girls whose voices are most silenced. When it comes to resources, investments, social and economic policies, they are the first to miss out and the last to benefit. 

AND YET, this is only part of the story. While we know girls face extreme vulnerabilities at the intersections of age and gender, we also know that they are immensely powerful.

In the recently launched Stories of Girls Resistance, we discover the largest-ever collection of oral and narrative history of adolescent girls’ activism, offering a window into girls’ lives and their resistance in all of its messiness, pain, and force. It is an essential anthology. As Alian Olliverierre-Skeete says, “I remain optimistic that stories like these will aid in shifting the narrative that girls and women are inferior, and build solidarity among girls, women, and their allies.”

As this collection points out, a girl is often portrayed in one of two ways: as a passive victim who is in need of saving, or as a heroine who stood up against all odds in a single act of defiance. This is reflected in media, storybooks, news, academia, and our social and cultural fabric. However, these narratives do not portray the complex and nuanced truth about girls’ lives: their potential, their strength, their resistance, their dreams, their longing to play, to be free to rest—all of which sits alongside the inequality, pain, suffering, and violence they face. 

Girls are a formidable force. And we need to recognise the significant role they play and have always played in creating lasting social change. As Ayat Mneina, a Libyan researcher and human rights advocate, comments: “It is at the heart of girls’ resistance that we can begin to build hope to challenge and build a world where gendered justice can truly be left in the past.” 

At EMpower, we have been focusing intentionally on adolescent girls and young women for more than 20 years. Whether in Turkey, Brazil, or the Philippines, we believe every girl is born empowered. Our role should be to help her dismantle the structures that prevent her from exercising this power, leaving her without an education, vulnerable to violence, and with limited work options. We invest in girls because they deserve better. When their rights are fully realised, girls strengthen both their own lives and entire communities, upturning poverty and inequity.

With our approximately 150 grantee partners, we are co-creating and strengthening systems, communities, and movements where girls and young women have the skills, opportunities, and choices to live their full potential. We are aiming to create conditions in which they can live in peace and free from all forms of violence—to live in dignity and feel celebrated. 

As a global community—especially those with influence and resources—we should commit to being fully accountable to girls and to expanding their agency, increasing equality, and enhancing their safety and well-being. At EMpower, we aim to continuously build on our work with girls and young women, keeping their expertise, voices, capabilities, and ideas at the heart of our programmes. We do this by embedding girls’ expertise into our programmatic strategies, decision-making, and resource allocation. We do this through strengthening and expanding our approaches to meaningfully engage girls and young women in our programmes in India, Indonesia, Mexico, and South Africa. We do this through our focus on their mental health and well-being. And we do this though our long-term and flexible funding models, where we commit to listening and having vital learning conversations with girls and young women over time. 

We hope these approaches can inspire and help guide others. It is clear the world will not achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals, unless we work together to end violence against women and girls and to make our world more equitable. Current projections forecast that gender parity will not be achieved for another 100 years. This is not good enough; it is not acceptable. 

I hope that you will stand with us, with and for girls. And that we individually and collectively hold ourselves accountable to amplifying girls’ voices, listening to their priorities, and heeding their ideas. This is the most important commitment we can make if we truly want to accelerate progress on gender equity and put an end to gender-based violence.

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