As we complete a week of the 16 Days campaign, we turn our attention to young and teenage girls. Clearly the place and value of girls in the family hierarchy is a key factor that underlies violence that girls face in their homes.
Preventing violence against girls
Girls who survive through birth and early childhood, and who are not married early, still suffer other types of violence in the home, at school, and in society at large. Such abuse includes emotional, physical, and sexual abuse at home and in school for those girls who live at home and get an education; violence on the streets for homeless girls; sexual and physical abuse in juvenile facilities; and commercial sexual exploitation. During times of conflict or natural disasters, the vulnerability of girls to some of these forms of violence may increase as household structures and protection are disrupted.
A national survey conducted by the government of India (GOI 2007) on child abuse found that 50% or more of all surveyed girls experienced one or more forms of physical or sexual violence and emotional violence. Physical violence is particularly prevalent for girls living on the streets or in correctional institutions.
GEMS to cherish
We found one well-evaluated programme in India to address sexual harassment in schools: the GEMS (Gender Equity Movement in Schools) programme. It adds evidence to the growing understanding that intervening early is critical to changing gender equality norms and beliefs. The GEMS programme addresses attitudes about sexual harassment inside and outside of schools and within a broader aim of transforming attitudes and behaviours related to intimate partner violence, child marriage, and gender norms.
GEMS is worth examining because of its success in introducing complex, creative, and participatory curricula to young boys and girls. It is also noteworthy in that it engaged not only young boys and young girls but also their mentors, teachers, and facilitators to examine and deconstruct attitudes on violence in their immediate environments. GEMS provides an opportunity for scale-up throughout public school systems, thus reaching a vast population of youth.
The GEMS training manual was developed in India by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) in partnership with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Committee of Resource Organizations (CORO) for Literacy. In its first phase, GEMS was piloted in Mumbai public schools across two academic years (2008–09 and 2009–10).
The GEMS activities focused on interactive group discussion and reflection with teachers trained to moderate. This structure allowed students the space to explore their own attitudes and feelings about the extent to which various potential daily interactions could be considered a form of violence.
Deep analysis revealed a significant shift in students’ attitudes towards gender equality and roles, most of which occurred in the first year of the intervention. In contrast, students’ comfort level with reporting sexual harassment took longer to achieve and was significantly different from the control arm only at the second follow-up. This shift was particularly notable among girls, suggesting success in breaking the taboo on girls’ disclosure of such violence. Girls and boys opposed partner violence, attesting to the potential of transforming gender beliefs when intervening early.
Challenges for future replication
Identifying and maintaining relationships. It is essential to identify appropriate partners and create and maintain good relationships with government officials.
Wider dissemination of key messages. Thus far the focus has been on schools; a challenge lies in working with parents, health systems, community-based organizations, and others to integrate gender equity concepts into these forums.
Institutionalization. Building on current experience, further evolution is required to institutionalize and mainstream gender equity programs in national and state-level plans and budgets.
Budget constraints. Given the expense of high-quality gender equity programs, there is a need for more sustainable budgetary options.
Teacher involvement. Building the role of teachers as vital stakeholders in the process, while arming them with the skills to engage sensitively in gender issues and the strength to deal with potential controversy, is a key challenge.
This article is part of our series on the international 16 Days of Activism campaign with the theme “Orange the World”.