Raising voices for women and girls

Raising voices for women and girls

Girls and women are particularly vulnerable in communities plagued with poverty and instability. Extreme poverty also leaves young girls and women at risk of sexual and gender-based violence, as well as of child, early and forced marriage. Not having access to a proper education limits the potential of these girls and leaves them without many options to pursue a happier, more productive life.

Canada is active globally to improve the lives of these young girls by supporting efforts that educate them, their families and the communities around them so that they have options other than marriage at a very young age. This awareness also helps them better defend themselves against sexual and gender-based violence.

Canada’s approach in developing countries reflects basic Canadian values. These values are the same ones championed by the Government of Canada in its tribute to women’s empowerment marking this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8. The tribute is led by Status of Women Canada. The 2016 theme for International Women’s Day, Women’s Empowerment Leads to Equality, reminds us that empowering women leads to gender equality. Empowered women are women who make their own choices, who know what the options are and understand that when they empower themselves, they have the best chance to fulfill their potential and support themselves, their families and communities.

In many developing countries, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia, young girls’ choices, such as between going to school and getting married, are not in their own hands. These choices are bound up in poverty, local customs and limited access to education. Girls who marry at a young age are more likely to experience domestic violence.

In the slums bordering Nairobi, Kenya, for example, one in four girls between the ages of 14 and 19 is sexually assaulted each year. Canada, intending to improve these odds, is working with a local partner, Ujamaa, to end sexual and gender-based violence and prevent radicalization of vulnerable youth. Through this initiative, the Girls' Empowerment-Self Defense program, girls and young women are taught how to defend themselves (as the photograph illustrates).

A parallel program for young boys in the same area, called Your Moment of Truth, teaches boys to stand up to sexual assault and harassment in their communities and the differences between right and wrong, including saying no to drugs, saying no to terrorist organizations and staying in school.

Statistics speak to the success of these projects. Since the beginning of these programs, the incidence of rape in these communities has decreased by 50 percent, there has been a 47-percent decrease in teen pregnancy, and 75 percent more boys than before say they would intervene when they saw someone being assaulted.

On a global scale, Canada is proud to partner with Girls Not Brides to host Girls Voices: Speaking out Against Child Marriage, a photographic exhibit that tells the stories of girls, some as young as 10, forced into child marriage. The exhibit tells the tales of individuals brave enough to share their own stories on behalf of the 15 million other young girls who are forced into marriage each year. Collectively, these girls speak out to put an end to child marriage on a global scale. They help us understand the profound effect that early marriage has on the lives of young girls and their families, as well as the steps being taken to end this widespread and harmful practice.

Raising awareness among girls and boys, women and men about sexual violence and child, early and forced marriage is critical to changing attitudes and practices that harm vulnerable youth in developing countries. Canada’s efforts to empower young girls are part of a global commitment to protect human rights, support education, improve health and wellness, and give girls the hope of a brighter, more productive future.

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