Data is only useful if it spurs action. And the most effective action is country-led, data-informed, and centered on the health, safety and agency of girls. When quality data is driving change, doors open for individual girls, their communities, and the world at large.
Together for Girls, a global public-private partnership, has been working for ten years to end violence against children, with a special focus on ending sexual violence against girls. The Together for Girls partnership brings together national governments, UN entities and private sector organizations working at the intersection of violence against children and violence against women.
But violence doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it’s deeply connected to the denial of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for girls across the globe. We cannot end violence without ensuring SRHR, and we cannot ensure SRHR without addressing violence.
Data-Informed and Country-Led Solutions to Violence
And we can’t do either alone. Through a three-pronged model that combines data, action, and advocacy, we can promote evidence-based solutions, galvanize coordinated response across sectors, and raise awareness.
Here’s how it works: Together for Girls’ country partners first undertake the Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS), a nationally-representative household survey of 13-to-24-year-olds that provides critical, never before available information on violence against girls and boys.
The VACS are led by national governments with technical support from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as part of the Together for Girls partnership. Armed with reliable, country-wide data, these countries take VACS information and use it to drive national and local action tailored to their own contexts and specific challenges.
At the Intersection of Violence and SRHR
Thanks to the VACS, we now have nationally representative data for more than 10% of the world’s young people (aged 13-24). This data shows that more than 30% of girls experience sexual violence before age 18, and almost one in four describe their first sexual experience as forced or coerced.
The impact of sexual violence can be lifelong—from severe mental health consequences to unintended pregnancy. And too often, sexual violence puts survivors at increased risk of HIV and sexually transmitted infections. Tragically, VACS data shows that very few survivors ever seek or receive services.
With great data comes great responsibility, so the Together for Girls partnership has a vital part to play in illuminating the importance of SRHR when it comes to supporting survivors. From increasing access to contraceptives to rethinking adolescent-friendly family planning services, reducing unintended pregnancy and HIV transmission among young people requires a variety of approaches.
That’s why, we launched the Every Hour Matters campaign in 2016, raising awareness about the importance of quickly accessing post-rape care (including emergency contraception and post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV) and calling on national and community leaders to ensure comprehensive services are widely available—particularly to young people.
With the help of youth champions in Uganda and Kenya and partners like Women Deliver, Together for Girls then developed the Every Hour Matters Youth Engagement Toolkit as a set of resources guiding youth-led organizations in delivering information on post-rape care.
Girls Take the Lead in Shattering the Silence
Every Hour Matters is only one example of an evidence-based strategy to mitigate the impact of violence through an SRHR lens. But we also know that girls themselves are powerful agents of change. Through our storytelling platform, Safe, we put the power back in the hands of girls. From the power of student mentorship in challenging gender stereotypes in Eswatini, to a young survivor working to break the cycle of violence in Tanzania as a PEPFAR DREAMS Ambassador, young people are at the helm of shattering the silence to ensure all girls and women can be safe, healthy, and empowered to live their lives.
Together for Girls is excited to work alongside incredible young people, our partners, and other leading organizations at Women Deliver 2019. The conference shows what our partnership has always believed: there is strength in numbers and power in partnership. Only by working together, can we achieve a world where every girl can be safe, healthy, and empowered.