Shining a Light on Gender-Based Violence in Four Countries

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By Christine Ennulat, Staff Writer
Posted on 12/11/2014

Gender-based violence is as its name suggests: violence against a person because of his or her gender. It’s also one of the least recognized and most under-reported of all barriers to child development and survival.

In 2012, ChildFund launched a program called Shine a Light in four countries — Dominica, Indonesia, Liberia and Senegal — thanks in large part to a major gift from a concerned donor. The project’s goal was to raise awareness of gender-based violence, assist child survivors of sexual abuse and help communities develop child-protective systems and responses.

Water facility

The nature and causes of gender-based violence (GBV) vary across the four Shine a Light countries, so ChildFund tailored the program in each accordingly.

In Indonesia, GBV is on the rise among young people, especially within dating relationships. So, ChildFund worked through local partner organizations to educate youth about violence between intimate partners. The participants in turn served as peer educators in their communities, leading age-appropriate forums with children and youth from several schools. In doing so, the youth facilitators learned that peer involvement makes students listen more closely than to adults dictating rules.

“Physical and emotional abuses are considered as normal for them,” said Irma, who worked with 18- to 24-year-olds. “They didn’t realize that when they tease or make fun of someone, it could hurt the other person.”

Among Dominica’s population of 73,000 people, the Caribbean island saw more than 700 reports of abuse between 2009 and June 2014 — one in every 104 people. Sexual abuse is the most common form of gender-based violence against children in Dominica, especially in communities with high unemployment, juvenile delinquency and student dropout rates, as well as frequent drug use and sexual abuse.

Water facility

Working in one of Dominica’s most deprived communities, Shine a Light’s Man-Up program sought to empower boys and youths ages 6 to 24 to make responsible choices while respecting the rights of girls and women. Together, young men learned to express themselves in positive ways. Sessions focused on respect for self and others, gender norms and their implications, community responsibility, brotherhood, goal setting, and sexual and reproductive health.

In Liberia, schools are rife with sexual exploitation and abuse. A 2012 study of 800 girls in four of Liberia’s counties found that 88.7 percent had experienced a sexual violation and cited classmates, teachers and school personnel as the main perpetrators.

To respond, Shine a Light formed two clubs for girls, to provide a safe space in the school setting where girls may interact with each other and community mentors about issues such as sexual exploitation and abuse, HIV and AIDS, prevention of unintended pregnancy, and reproductive myths. Financial literacy-building activities added a complementary form of empowerment.

The project also engaged boys and teachers. Boys learned about the causes and consequences of sexual exploitation and abuse, and, like the girls, also receive financial education. The project also works with teachers and school administrators to reinvigorate and apply a school code of conduct for all personnel.

In Senegal, ChildFund conducted a study to examine the scope of GBV and found that children experience gender-based violence at home, at school and throughout their communities, leading to an overall environment where GBV is passively accepted as a part of everyday life, particularly when directed at girls. Six child protection groups were formed, comprising both young people and adults, to mobilize the communities about some of their most pervasive GBV issues. These groups then developed action plans, which outlined key steps they wanted to take in partnership with their communities to address these issues.

The groups chose to focus on community mobilization and advocacy with authorities around rape, early and forced marriage and early pregnancy. An early success involved helping prevent a 14-year-old girl from undergoing a forced marriage: When a youth group in her village learned of her situation, they approached the local child protection group, which then met with her mother and negotiated for the girl’s rights.

These variations of Shine a Light are just four examples of how ChildFund tailors its programs to local needs and culture. Learn more about how ChildFund works with youth in particular.