Fourteen young women delegates are representing WAGGGS at the 57th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the UN in New York in March 2-13.

Learn from Emna Empower the girl-child about shocking attitudes to violence against girls and women in Tunisia which were uncovered in a national survey contributed to by the Tunisian Girl Scouts. In her blog The importance of discussing violence with young people Claire guides us through an experiment with 'boys' toys' and gender stereotypes. 

WAGGGS Chief Executive Mary Mc Phail invites us to imagine a world without violence in her powerful call for the world to end violence against girls and young women: Stop the Violence : Girls on the Frontline of Prevention. Meanwhile, Kumbukani shows us the dangers for young girls and women in collecting water in Malawi in Environmental Degradation and gender-based violence: Girls are the solution.

Hasiniaina shows us how poverty affects girls and young women in Madagascar in her blog Voices against Violence:Madagascar. Finally, in Combating violence through education Rosy explores how technology can affect gender-based violence.   

Together, these girl and women bloggers show us that another world is possible.

We invite you, Girl Guide and Girl Scout associations, youth organizations, governments, schools and other groups, to deliver the curriculum and help make a difference to the lives of millions of children and young people and their communities.

Empower the girl-child

Emna (Tunisia)

Girls experience violence in all forms in every country, community and culture. Girls have the right to have a life free from violence and the fear of violence, but this right is being abused. Girls are particularly vulnerable to violence as they face the double discrimination of their gender and age. Globally it is estimated that 150 million girls under 18 have experienced sexual violence. In Tunisia, one in five women experience physical violence at least once in their lives, and one in six experience sexual violence.

CSW Emna at eventRecently, I contributed to a national survey ran by the Ministry of Health, which the Tunisian Girl Scouts participated in. I carried out several interviews with both girls and women. This was a very interesting experience.

Looking at the results of the survey, I was shocked at the number of girls who thought that violence is normal. In fact they saw it as a sign of “masculinity”. For a man to be a real man, he needed to be violent. Some of the girls told me that they wouldn’t marry a man who didn’t hit them because “real” men hit women!!! 

Why has this violence been normalised? Well, society has created gender stereotypes and roles that tell girls they should act in a certain way and accept certain behaviour. For example, if a girl lives in a violent home this can be extremely destructive for her. It can cause her to lose her confidence and to perpetuate violence into future generations as they become so familiar with being abused. The girl will grow up thinking that this is a normal behavior, and will therefore accept this behavior from her future husband. This can also happen even when girls indirectly witness violence in the home. This is supported through the roles and images of boys, men, girls and women depicted in the media.

Our survey showed us that in Tunisia 55 per cent of women and girls think that violence is so normal that it doesn’t even need to be talked about. That's 55 per cent!

This is a huge problem. How can we stop this violence, when it has become so normalised in society? We need to address the structural causes that allow such normalisation to occur.

So what can be done? We need to empower. By building girls’ self-esteem, their confidence and providing them with opportunities, we can teach and change society to value girls. If both girls and boys, women and men, value themselves and one another, if society places value on the girl-child, then girls will no longer be viewed, or view themselves, as worthless.

So how can we empower them? As Nelson Mandela said “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”, I believe that education, especially non-formal education, is a key preventive tool to address violence. And the change needs to come from the grassroots, from young women leading girls and showing them the way. That is our role!

I am part of a Movement of 10 million girls and young women worldwide and we can make this change because we believe that girls are the power! We believe that girls are the solution, so we should invest in them to make a difference!

I’ve seen what a difference working with girls can achieve. By teaching girls about their rights through educational activities, their self-esteem blossoms. My sister Girl Guides and Girl Scouts have delivered WAGGGS and UN Women’s non-formal education curriculum Voices against violence which has taught girls as young as five about gender inequality, gender-based violence and their human rights.

As a Girl Scout I can say that a great way to start the process of breaking the normalisation of violence is by using the Scouts as a vehicle. We need to implement basic education about gender-based violence to all young people in the world, both girls and boys. And we need to do that within each cultural context, explaining it from the cultural perspectives that they will understand.

In Tunisia, if we can educate the thousands of Girl Scouts, they will educate the tens and hundreds of their friends, their relatives, even their parents, and one day their children.

We believe that girls are the power

We should educate girls because they have the power to break the chain of violence. I want a new Tunisia where every girl knows that her life is and should be free from violence.

Some say good things come to those who wait. But in this case, we should not wait. We *must* not wait for this to change. We must. act. now.

Finally I want to say to all the girls in the world that no one has the right to violate you whatever the reason, NO ONE! You should know that if you are walking down the street naked men don’t have the right to rape you! No one has the right to force you to get married very young! And NO ONE has the right to hit you!

Girls, we are equal to men and together we can make a powerful amazing change! Be proud because you are a girl, don’t be afraid! I am here, standing up because I want to end violence against women and girls, I hope you will stand with me.


The importance of discussing violence with young people

Claire (New Zealand)

New Zealand participated as one of the 20 countries that piloted the Voices against Violence curriculum last year. My Pippin Unit, comprising girls aged five to seven was one of the units in New Zealand selected to pilot the programme.

I put our Pippin Unit forward for the pilot as I was very interested to see how the curriculum and the topic of violence against girls would be presented to girls aged five to seven.

Some parents of my girls where initially hesitant about us discussing this topic with their girls. But once we explained what we would be doing and that it is an age-appropriate curriculum they where very supportive.           

With the curriculum, we first began with setting a safe space with the girls to be able to complete the activities and discuss the topics. We created ‘Pippin Rules’ or a code of conduct. One of the activities we focused on was gender inequality and discrimination. For this we gave traditional ‘boys toys’: blocks, trains, marble game and slot cars for them to play with and didn’t say anything to them. We just let them have fun. At the end we then got the group together and explained to them that some people believe that only boys are allowed to play with these. Do you think this right?

This session was extremely beneficial for the girls. They were given the opportunity to play with toys of a problem solving type nature which they are not normally given at this young age. One girl commented that it does not matter if it is a girl’s toy or a boy’s toy, they should be able to play with them all. This session enabled the girls to connect gender-stereotypes in their everyday lives without understanding the adult terminology.

Education is key in making a social change.

The curriculum ends with a take action section. This session is aimed at getting young people to deliver projects about violence against girls in their community. The girls in my Pippin Unit chose to write a letter to our mayor and ask him to help children who are not as lucky as us. The girls also drew pictures for the children at the local women’s refuge to put on their walls to make feel better. The Women’s refuge were pleased to accept the pictures and the children really enjoyed making them. Even at a young age, this programme makes a challenging topic accessible and gives girls an opportunity to make a difference in their community.

When the parents witnessed the positive outcome of ‘Voices against violence’ in their daughters, they were impressed and understood how beneficial it is to educate young people on this topic. One mother especially liked the activity where the girls drew around their hand and wrote who they could trust inside it. It gave the mother an honest reflection of what her daughter views as safe space.

By having a structured non-formal education environment issues were discussed and explored with the girls that are otherwise ignored in formal education settings. Girl Guides across the world provides a safe space, a forum where girls have the opportunity to discuss topics that are important to them.

After piloting this programme, I understand how important it is to teach this curriculum to girls aged five to seven as it helps build their basic building block for life which will be developed on as they move the curriculum.

Education is key in making a social change. You need to focus on the girls in your life, whether it is your own daughter, granddaughter, niece - or girls in your neighbourhood. By giving them an avenue for education in their lives, you are empowering them to change our world. A world that is free from violence. Girls are our future leaders and will soon be the ones making the decisions to make our world a better place.


Stop the Violence : Girls on the Frontline of Prevention

Mary Mc Phail, Chief Executive

I am delighted to be part of the launch of our Voices against Violence education programme.  Working with our partners UN Women, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts has developed a unique and remarkable curriculum which forms one part of our response to the on-going and unacceptable injustice of violence against girls and women.

Mary Mc PhailThat six in ten girls and women will experience some form of violence in her lifetime is a horrendous crime, a dreadful abuse of power and a violation of human rights that the global community has not yet been able to eliminate despite decades of declarations, resolutions and actions.

We know that this ongoing pandemic, and the absence of an effective global or national responses to stop gender-based violence is crushing individual lives, tearing families and communities apart  and destroying the life opportunities and the potential of girls and women all over the world.  It is happening, every day, in every community and in every country in the world.

We are all touched in some way by violence and the fear of violence and I would suggest quite simply, that it is in the air that hundreds of millions of girls and young women breathe every day. For far too long girls and young women have had to live within this air of intimidation in fear and in silence.

Imagine for a moment how this intimidation and the ever present threat of violence in our homes, in our schools, on the streets,  influences the decisions that we make every day – both consciously and unconsciously? And now I invite you to imagine a world where all girls and women feel free and safe from intimidation and violence, and where they are fully empowered to fulfil their potential. This is the world that we want for girls and young women – nothing more and nothing less.

In 2009 the World Association carried out a consultation with girls and young women around the world and we asked them about what was important to them, what affected them every day and about what issues they really cared enough about to take action. This is when we began to hear the first whispers from girls themselves breaking this silence of intimidation. Girls told us that they wanted to take a lead on tackling violence against girls and young women and that they wanted the World Association to work alongside them to do this.

Voices against Violence is our first response to that first whisper; and with this programme we aim to go from a whisper of resistence to a shout of outrage. TO STOP THE VIOLENCE.

In the next seven years, five million children and young people will take part in Voices against Violence. They will learn to talk about violence, understand its root causes, recognize their rights and develop the skills and confidence to claim those rights for themselves and others. 

  • Voices against Violence is a non-formal education curriculum and non-formal education is a key tool in preventing violence against girls and women, tackling the underlying causes of violence such as gender inequality, gender stereotypes and discrimination. 
  • Voices against Violence is a programme that empowers girls and boys, young women and young men to be leaders, to speak out and take action.  Children and young people are instrumental in changing the landscape of violence. 
  • Voices against Violence helps create safe spaces, where children as young as five can learn and play and develop healthy and respectful relationships and break down negative stereotypes and gender norms.
  • Voices against Violence is a co-educational initiative which engages boys and men, parents and the community in the sometimes challenging conversations about violence.  Breaking down barriers and working together is the only way we will end violence against girls and young women.
  • But Voices against Violence is also about building a Movement for change, with children and young people the leaders at its heart.  The curriculum is part of the World Association’s broader campaign to “Stop the violence – Speak out for girls’ rights,” which will engage 30 million people to add their voice and take action to end violence. 

As well as this education programme, we are also running a global awareness campaign, advocating for girls’ rights, investing in research and evaluation, and supporting local and national campaigns to deliver change at the community level. We want to understand more about what does work and to spread that message around the world.

CSW Mary and Nazish at Voices against Violence launchAs powerful a force as 10 million Girl Guides and Girl Scouts around the world are, we can not do this alone.  And that is why I give my warmest thanks to four remarkable organizations that have joined us in our campaign to Stop Violence and speak out for girls’ rights. 

The World Organization of the Scout Movement, the YWCA, the YMCA, and the Duke of Edinburgh's Awards have all committed to the World Associations’ campaign, Stop the Violence, speak out for girls’ rights.  With a combined membership base of 100 million girls and young women, boys and young men, surely this is the real beginning of the end of the toleration of violence against girls and women.

Millions of children and young people with strong voices, empowered to take action to eliminate violence against girls and young women, to break gender norms and stereotypes, to develop respectful relationships, to negate discrimination and embrace equality, I cannot wait to hear those voices raised in outrage even louder than they already are with the clear message that violence against girls and women can never be tolerated or excused whoever or wherever the perpetrators are.

We invite each of you to join us in raising your voices against violence. The curriculum is not just for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. Deliver it to your members, use the activities at your events and training, come along to our trainings and so much more. 

Together we can end this tragedy and I urge you to commit to break the silence. Thank you for your on-going commitment to ensuring that all girls and young women have the right to live their lives free from violence and from the threat of violence.


Environmental Degradation and gender-based violence: Girls are the solution

CSW Tuesday Kumbukani

Kumbukani (Malawi)

Gender inequality is the root cause of violence against women and girls. Gender roles and stereotypes create power dynamics whereby men have control over women. In most communities, patriarchal societies have created situations where men have control and dominate. This gender inequality will only be exacerbated and worsened by environmental degradation. Worryingly, factors that increase girls’ risk to gender-based violence, such as poverty, are only set to worsen due to climate change.

In Malawi, just like other developing countries, gender roles means that women and girls have to carry the domestic tasks of gathering fuel and fetching water, both in urban and rural areas. Fulfilling these tasks often require girls to walk long distances, often by themselves, through isolated and unsafe areas. This puts them at risk of physical and sexual assault. Environmental degradation, such as deforestation and pollution, is making wood for fuel and safe drinking water increasingly scarce. This results in girls walking longer distances and incurring increasing risks.

The longer and more time-consuming these tasks become, a vicious cycle ensues as girls will have less time to attend school and study. Meaning girls’ access to education is being challenged further.

However, I know the solution to this problem. Girls are the solution.  Investment in girls and young women is key in tackling both gender-based violence and environmental degradation.  As the custodians of the future, younger generations need to be invested in. They are integral to developing a sustainable society.

The key to this investment is to provide education to girls, both formal and non-formal education. In Girl Guides, we have seen the powerful role that education can play in dealing with such big topics. For example, Voices against violence, WAGGGS and UN Women’s non-formal education programme, is helping girls from as young as five learn how to identify violence and reclaim their rights to stop it. In Malawi, we have been running a Stop the Violence campaign on ending early child marriage, by running workshops and awareness campaigns. The non-formal education work we do is impactful as we are able to reach girls that cannot access the formal system.

Girl Guides have also been busy addressing environmental change. In 2012 I led my Girl Guide unit in a local environmental project to try and deal with the problem of deforestation in my community. Fire wood in my community was scarce. People had to walk long distances to access wood. So myself and my Girl Guides planted 1,000 fast growing trees in the local school garden. As a result of this project, women and girls now have a local source of fire wood. Additionally, inspired by the project, girls and women in the community started to grow their own trees in their own garden creating a more sustainable fuel, and food, source.

By empowering girls and women to tackle climate change and work towards sustainability. By investing in them and using their knowledge. By empowering future leaders we will work towards equality. By creating a world of equality, we create a world where more girls will live lives free from violence and the fear of violence.  At CSW I want to see decision-makers make a commitment to education on both the environment and gender-based violence, and ensure environmental sustainability and social justice for girls across the world.

People need to stand up and make a change. Only last year did Malawi government implement legislation to tackle environmental change. This is taking too long. The girl child deserves a better future. 


Voices against Violence:Madagascar

Hasiniaina (Madagascar)

CSW Hasina at launchI want to tell you about the issues in Madagascar.. We can see many forms of violence, such as prostitution, forced marriage, early workers and domestic violence. We can find all of these things everywhere in Madagascar. 65 per cent of girls and women experience some form of violence during their lifetime.

Many girls don't study because they don't have money to attend. They want to find money for school and survival. Parents try and find a husband for the girl. This supplies the family with some money. In the rural areas, parents stop educating their children at seven or ten years old, in order for the children to help the family get money. Children go to the towns to find jobs where they risk exploitation and violence in order to survive. Every year over 1,000 children disappear in Antananarivo.

In Madagascar, we refused to stay silent. We wanted to act. As such, Madagascar became a pilot Member Organization for the WAGGGS and UN Women’s Voices Against Violence curriculum along with 19 countries from around the world.

In my Association we had a meeting with a pilot group of 50 girls to discuss the curriculum. We had six days to discuss and plan together. We talked about definitions of violence and the different forms of violence. We learned how to make an action plan and put that into place. In my action plan, I decided I want to discuss violence against girls everywhere, especially in schools with my peers. I also want to make the campaign more public. The other girls in the pilot held meetings and interviews on TV, gave speeches and had discussions with government officials. People started to understand the impact of violence against girls and women. Girls and women started to understand and realize their rights.

We have a plan to raise awareness among the people of Madagascar about the Stop the Violence: speak out for girls’ rights campaign. We can sensitize and educate the people about the consequences of violence against girls. Sometimes inMadagascar, the law does not care about violence. It does not protect the girls. As an organization, we can and do. Girl Guides is a safe space for girls.

Girl Guides and Girl Scouts across the world can help with solutions to end violence against girls. And we have begun making a change. All of us can support. Make a commitment to supporting Voices against violence and making sure that all girls and boys have a safe space to discuss such a horrible issue.


Combating violence through education

Rosy Burgess (UK)

I'm from the UK and I am at CSW as a youth delegate with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS). Today I will discuss teen dating violence and the importance of education in empowering girls and young women.

A recent report by the NSPCC on teen dating violence in the UK found that one third of girls aged between 13 and 16 had experienced some form of sexual partner violence. There is a strong association between adolescent partner violence and domestic violence in adulthood, so this begins a cycle in which violence becomes normal behaviour.

It has become normal for teenagers to treat each other abusively and this is often passed off as “just messing around”. Where teens would once flirt with each other in the playground, they are now using technology to create a level of flirting that has gone way beyond this.

The phenomenon of “sexting” - creating, sharing and forwarding sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images through mobile phones and the internet - is now common among teenagers as young as 11 and 12 years old. The use of social media means that what was once confined to the school playground can now go viral. These viral images often receive media attention but society as a whole hasn't seen this as a form of violence that is happening to their children and young people.

The use of technology is exacerbated by films and media. Films aimed at children are full of images and stories of how women “should be” and what a “normal” relationship should be like. For example, what Disney really tells us is that, to be popular and to win the boy, you need to be beautiful, to change yourself, to leave your family.

This theme in films follows children as they develop and become teenagers. Books and films like Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight have seen massive success over the last 12 months, particularly amongst teenagers. In the UK in 2012, Amazon sold more copies of the Fifty Shades trilogy than the Harry Potter series. These are stories which popularise abusive, controlling, manipulative relationships, with women submitting and making drastic changes to their lives to please a man.

So how do we make this stop?

Education is critical in ending all forms of violence. Non-formal education can be a powerful tool as it empowers girls and young women to understand and assert their rights, and to challenge the root causes of violence – such as gender stereotypes and inequality. Childhood and adolescence is a critical stage of personal and collective development, during which times values, understanding and attitudes around gender equality, norms and roles are instilled. Non-formal education provides a unique space for children and young people to discuss these topics in a forum that is rarely provided in the formal education system.

Through its mission to “enable girls and young women to discover their fullest potential as responsible citizens of the world”, WAGGGS is already placing the girl child at the centre of the solution. Through WAGGGS' approach of non-formal education, community action and advocacy, we are empowering the rights and changing the understandings and attitudes of 10 million girls and young women and their communities in 145 countries. As part of the Stop the Violence: speak out for girls' rights campaign WAGGGS is demonstrating the effectiveness of non-formal education in empowering girls and ending the violence.

In 2012, I piloted WAGGGS' “Voices Against Violence” non-formal education syllabus with a group of 20 Brownies, members of Girlguiding UK aged between 7 and 10 years old.
Before we started the pilot, we were worried that parents wouldn't want us to introduce this syllabus to their daughters as it's so different to anything they've learned before. We gave parents the opportunity to speak to us and raise any concerns before we started. The feedback we received was really positive, and it was great to hear at the end of the project that girls had been speaking to their families and friends about what they had learnt during the project.

Over five hour-long sessions, we tackled a huge range of issues within a safe space. One of the highlights was introducing media and what gender issues are highlighted within their favourite films. All of the activities we carried out were appropriate for the age range and experiences of the girls in the group, and we made it clear that they could step out of any activity if they felt uncomfortable. No-one did. This speaks volumes to the effectiveness and the adaptability of the curriculum.

This project has shown me the power of non-formal education in empowering girls of all ages, and it is for this reason that I believe non-formal education should be a key priority for this year's CSW.

Together we can change our world.