Violence against girls and women is inevitable and predictable but it is preventable

Pascaline Umulisa, a Girl Guide from Rwanda, writes about her experience of speaking about preventing violence against women at two UN sessions.

I was truly amazed and honored to represent 10 million members of WAGGGS at the UN official observation of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the 15th Anniversary of the UN Trust Fund, and to speak on behalf of everyone in our movement.

I gave remarks in two sessions on the same day which will forever stay in my memory. The first session was during a breakfast meeting with UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary director Michelle Bachelet, the UNiTE Campaign t-shirt design winners, the UN Trust Fund grantees and many more. The second session was more open to the public, with civil society organizations and individuals attending.

Among the speakers I was impressed by a 19-year-old girl, one of the UN Trust Fund grantees from Guatemala, who gave a brave testimony of her childhood saying that at a very early age her family sent her to sell potatoes at the market instead of going to school - partly because she was a girl.

Now she is a leader of a group of 89 girls who have similar problems. With a UN Trust Fund grant she helps them to understand their rights and together they advocate for girls and young women in the community. This courageous young girl inspired me to believe that, whatever lies in your past, it is only the future that matters. She is like a Girl Guide or a Girl Scout, because she is leading a change that she wants to see in her community.

I was delighted that my own remarks were similar to Mr Ban’s. We both highlighted that in order to increase the speed of ending violence we must engage all of society, especially young people and in particular men and boys. This is also in line with WAGGGS’ Advocacy Campaign objectives, which state that young girls are the solution to violence and are not just victims.

During my second session, I recommended three points that I thought everyone in WAGGGS would agree with:

  1. Every country must put in place a national action plan on ending violence which has girls and women at its very centre.
  2. Safe spaces and services for girls and women who encountered violence must be created, to protect victims and provide them with information about their rights and how to enforce them.
  3. International organizations, governments and donors must consider and invest in the work we conduct at grassroots level.

After my presentation, UN Women executive director Michelle Bachelet - a humble and very passionate woman - whispered to me: “Pascaline, my recommendations and yours are similar!”

Madame Bachelet had revealed some unbelievable statistics of violence against women across the globe. Did you know that up to six out of ten women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime? This made me think about possible strategies for widening our campaign activities.

The audience was impressed by what Girl guides and Girl Scouts are doing in their communities. At the end of the session, they wanted to learn more about our campaign so that they could include it in their strategic plans. As an activist who works at grassroots level I provided them with simple, meaningful and concrete examples that they could implement themselves. They confirmed that it was all they needed!

I was encouraged by their ideas and opinions. The organizers and I are looking at other ways in which we can reach as many people as possible and help girls and women to overcome traditional barriers and speak up.

Mme Bachelet told me about her next visit to Rwanda, and she promised to meet Girl Guides when she is there. I just can't wait; everyone is excited!

Mme Bachelet said that “violence against women is not inevitable but it can be prevented". She said: "We have the power to change the course of this global pandemic." This is what I carried home. We are that power. We can end violence committed against us because we put our hearts, souls and efforts into our campaign.

I encourage all WAGGGS members to apply for grants from the UN Trust Fund so that they can achieve their goals during the Stop the Violence – Speak Out for Girls’ Rights campaign. It is a huge opportunity offered by the UN to support projects like this one. Let’s grab it!