This year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is calling for global action to bridge funding gaps, and ensure essential services for survivors of violence during the COVID-19 crisis, and includes a strong focus on prevention.
Even before COVID-19 hit, violence against women and girls had reached pandemic proportions. Globally, 243 million women and girls had reported being abused by an intimate partner in the past year. In Malawi, a recent baseline survey for the Tithetse Nkhanza (Let’s Prevent Violence) programme in Malawi found that 75 per cent of adolescent girls had experienced at least one type of sexual harassment, abuse or exploitation during the previous year, and girls who were out of school were at higher risk of experiencing violence.
As countries have implemented lockdown measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, violence against women and girls intensified. In Malawi, economic impacts have made families poorer, and school closures have left girls more vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, child marriage, and harassment.
Keeping girls in school is a key strategy for preventing violence and delaying early entry into marriage. Access to quality, inclusive and gender-sensitive education can provide important safe havens and support for girls at risk. Curricula that integrate discussions of gender issues, including violence, rights and healthy relationships, can be particularly effective in empowering girls and helping them to recognise and report violence.
Girls from the poorest families are most at risk of being out of school and missing out on the benefits of education. Across the country, only 59 per cent of girls from low-income households make the transition to secondary education. Even those who get to secondary school often continue to need support in various ways and the MMF ‘Ready to Learn’ fund is a vital part of our support.
One girl, Esther, who was being supported by the MMF ran away from home during a school holiday because her family tried to force her into marriage. She travelled back to school, alone, and has been cared for by a local well-wisher ever since. Esther is in her final term at school now and is a confident, cheerful young woman, so different from the terrified girl whom we first met. We wish her well in her next stage of life. Whatever challenges she still has to face, she has her education and the knowledge that people supsported her in her decisions.