In November 2014, I trained a group of 22 amazing facilitators, and since then different groups of us have travelled around the world together delivering ACTIVATE events, as part of WAGGGS’ Stop the Violence – speak out for girls’ rights campaign. We started in Sangam, India in December 2014, moved on to Zambia in April 2015, October 2015 saw us in the USA and finally last month we finished in Togo. It has been an incredible experience and I feel privileged to have seen the campaign being put into real action on the ground.
On the last day of the recent ACTIVATE in Togo, as with every WAGGGS event, the mood at the closing ceremony was tinged with sadness. However the energy in the group was undeniable; this was a group of 47 incredible women who were determined to return to their countries, with renewed motivation and shared knowledge, to bring an end to violence against women and girls – a ‘plague’ that affects at least 1 in 3 girls and women around the world in their lifetime.
It’s easy to become bogged down by the sheer scale of this issue and to become disheartened – “how can I make a difference?”
It can be hard to remain optimistic when in every country in the world we see women and girls being devalued, when we see the typically masculine qualities ascribed to men and boys being considered ‘better than’ or ‘more than’ the qualities understood to be feminine and ascribed to women and girls. We talk about violence being a mechanism for keeping an unequal power dynamic in place, a dynamic where boys and men hold power over girls and women; but it can seem too difficult a fight sometimes when it feels like nobody wants to acknowledge that the unequal power dynamic exists in the first place.
However, if I have learnt anything from the last 14 months it’s that there’s something happening here, and it’s been building momentum for quite a while now.
There’s a pulse to this movement, a refusal to continue as we are. It’s a light, being passed between the hands of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts everywhere, and it’s not fragile, it will not easily be put out. The energy that’s built up, the passion that’s picking up speed is a challenge. A challenge that “we can do better than this”. It’s spreading wider, into families and communities, into schools and places of worship, through day to day exchanges, through the questioning of ‘the way things have always been’, recognising that if we’re going to do this, we need to do it properly.
We need to start tackling this with children, when they’re young. We need to be challenging ourselves in terms of the toys we give our children and the words we say to them. We need to be telling our girls that they can be Presidents and our boys that they will still ‘be a man’ if they cry.
The last 14 months have seen four ACTIVATE events – that’s 182 individuals from 35 countries who have risen up and said “STOP”
Bringing with them amazing stories of work they’ve already done, of legislation they’ve successfully lobbied for, of changes in awareness in their communities. They’re ready to go a step further – to go deeper into changing attitudes and shifting social norms. The excitement is palpable.
The Voices against Violence curriculum is completely unique. Developed in partnership with UN Women it’s the only programme of its kind that uses non-formal education to break down gender stereotypes, to challenge and change attitudes and give girls and young women, boys and young men a safe space to question what it means to be a girl or a boy. It builds girls’ and young women’s skills and the confidence to realise that they have rights – including a right to live a life free from violence and the fear of violence – and to stand up, go out into their communities and claim those rights, for themselves and for others.
The impact of 182 individuals training at least 3,000 leaders in their communities, who will, in turn, go on to deliver the Voices against Violence curriculum to 800,000 young people, aged 5 – 25, across 35 countries, will be incredible.
Lives will be transformed. As partnerships are sealed and more young people begin standing up as agents of change I have a dream that societies will start to shift. That gender stereotypes will begin to fall away. That no one will excuse, condone or justify violence any longer. That eventually, 1 in 3 women and girls experiencing abuse, being silenced and being blamed will become a distant memory.
Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, you are amazing. You have filled us with inspiration. We can feel the pulse and we are energised by your passion. Let your light shine – we can and we will stop the violence.
- Amy Quinn-Graham, WAGGGS’ Advocacy Coordinator