Violence Against Women (VAW) is one of the biggest and most brutal human rights issues in the world with 1 in 3 women experiencing some form of gender-based violence at some point in their lives. Like many human rights issues, VAW affects not just adults but also kids and teenagers. Many women and girls face domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, street harassment, cyber-VAW, human trafficking, and forced prostitution. Certain forms of gender-based violence such as female genital mutilation (FGM), breast ironing, and child marriage are performed exclusively on girls under the age of 18.
VAW is perpetuated, enforced, and normalised by centuries of social and cultural norms which work to preserve the patriarchal status quo in all but a handful of cultures worldwide. To effectively end VAW for good, advocates, activists, and communities need to take the long view because it would take several generations of progress before change can be permanent… and it has to begin with children and young people.
Educating children and teenagers about sexual consent and gender equality is an important part of changing the world into one where women and girls can reach their full potential in safety and peace. However, we also need to get young people involved in actively preventing and stopping the violence. Indeed, in recent years, a movement of young people from teenage Nobel Peace Laureate Malala Yousafzai to 18-year-old Afghani Rap artiste Sonita Alizadeh have risen to fight for an end to VAW and ensure a better future for them and their sisters.
As a starting point for all kids and teens out there, here are 16 ideas that you can put into action to help stop VAW. This is just a starting point. If there are alternative ways in which you feel they can contribute, do it because helping end violence doesn’t come with an age restriction.
It’s time to stop violence against women. Together.
Written by Samantha Carroll and Regina Yau. Introduction by Regina Yau.
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Ideas For Kids and Teens #1: Recognise the Signs. Recognising the signs is the first step towards helping prevent and intervene to stop VAW. Forms of VAW that kids and teens might come across in their communities and among their peers include relationship violence, street harassment, rape/sexual assault, child/forced marriage, and female genital mutilation – all of which can affect girls under the age of 18. Each type of VAW carries certain signs that you can spot if you know what to look for. For example: Some of the signs to be aware of when you are in a relationship or someone you care about is in a relationship, are control and manipulation, jealousy bordering on possessiveness, belittling, an unpredictable temper and isolation from social circles and family. So make an effort to learn what the signs are and you may well be able to save a girl or woman’s life or change it for the better.
Ideas For Kids and Teens #2: Demand For Education. Officially, school is where you get your formal education – where you learn maths, languages, history, and science. Unofficially, school is also where you learn to fit into society by knowing what is normal and what is unacceptable. This includes relationships and gender roles. So get pro-active with creating a school culture where misogyny, sexism, bullying, and VAW is not tolerated. Some actions you can take include: rallying your school to invite experts, anti-VAW activists and abuse survivors to talk about VAW with everyone. Lobbying for your school to offer a proper sex education module which includes the subject of sexual consent and healthy respectful relationships.
Ideas For Kids and Teens #3: Read! Read! Read! Reading is one of the ways that we get to step into other people’s shoes, and the Young Adult (YA) genre does a great job at helping us understand the feelings of girls who have experienced rape or who are stuck in abusive relationships. Books dealing with subjects of violence toward girls and women help us empathise with those who have been affected by abuse. Talk to your school librarian and your teachers – ask them if it’s possible to include YA books that deal with these issues. If your school has a reading club, suggest a few YA titles for the entire group to read. No luck with your school librarian or your school doesn’t have a reading club? Get a group of friends together to pool some money to buy the books and take turns to read them. Here are a few books to get you, your friends, and your school started: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Don’t Breathe a Word by Holy Cupala, and SLUT by Katie Cappiello & Meg McInerney.
Ideas For Kids and Teens #4: Boys – Call It Out. If you are part of a sports team or any other all-male club at school or if you go to an all-boys school, chances are you would have heard some of your male peers speak disrespectfully about your female peers, female teachers, or female coaches using derogatory words such as “bitch”, “slut”, “whore” and so on. You might even have heard them crack jokes rape jokes, or witnessed some of them behave aggressively towards women and girls. Don’t stay silent – speak up and call out such behaviour when you come across it. Do it one-on-one or in a small group if you are all friends. If your peers who need to be called out are extremely dominant or hold more social power in your group than you do, seek out an adult for help with dealing with the situation before it escalates, be it a male teacher who is strongly anti-bullying or a coach who will not stand for sexist behaviour. Need more ideas? Check out the resources offered by the White Ribbon Campaign which is the largest movement of men and boys in the world fighting to end VAW.
Ideas For Kids and Teens #5: Girls – Support Your Sisters. In many cultures and communities, women and girls often have only one ally when facing down misogyny and VAW – other women and girls. However, many women and girls are also socialised to uphold these norms. For example: Grandmothers and mothers in various African and Asian cultures still play an instrumental role in perpetuating the custom of female genital mutilation. Part of helping stop VAW is by supporting other women and girls in defiance of (and to dismantle) cultural and social norms. Girls need to champion one another by mentoring and helping each other achieve their goals, and celebrating each other’s successes. And if you see your female peer face any form of VAW, get all your female friends together to stand up with her and for her.
Ideas For Kids and Teens #6: Take Action Together. Don’t think that you can’t help change things for women and girls because you’re “just a kid”. There’s nothing more powerful than kids standing up for the rights of their peers. Even more powerful would be kids standing together to stop VAW in schools and communities. This can be done in many ways ranging from two friends banding together to face down the Slut-shaming of a classmate, to starting a feminist club at school where members can take collective action such as starting petitions to stop a classmate from being forced to marry and staging sit-ins to demand for stronger anti-bullying measures.
Ideas For Kids and Teens #7: Honour and Observe Awareness Days. Many schools honour and observe major festivals and public holidays as well as annual events such as Sports Day, Children’s Day, and Homecoming. So why not similarly honour and observe the various international awareness days related to women’s human rights, gender equality, and VAW, as part of efforts to stamp out VAW at school and your wide community? Some of the most high profile awareness days include International Women’s Day (March 8th), International Day of the Girl (October 11th), and the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence (November 25th – December 10th). Some of the ways in which you can get your school and/or peers involved. For example: older teens and college students can working with a supportive teacher or professor to put on a play such as The Vagina Monologues on the day itself or use the day to hold talks about VAW.
Ideas For Kids and Teens #8: Stop Slut-shaming NOW. We’ve all heard the tired old clichés trotted out when people discuss rape and sexual assault cases: “She was wasted”, “she was wearing a short skirt”, “she was asking for it”. Even in cases when a woman or girl has said no during before or during a sexual altercation, she will more likely than not be blamed for the incident of rape by her peers and community, and even her family. Slut-shaming leads to victim blaming – don’t do it. Do this instead: speak up when other kids do it to a female classmate; don’t put down female friends and classmates who wear sexy clothes; push back against ridiculous double standards for school attire where boys are allowed carte blanche and girls are given a ridiculously long list of what not to wear.
At Home and in the Wider Community
Ideas For Kids and Teens #9: Ring The Bell. If you are the neighbour of a family experiencing domestic violence, please take the time to ring their bell when you hear a violent situation happening. Do it safely – Ask a grown-up you know to go with you to intervene by using the old neighbourly approach of asking to borrow a cup of sugar or some milk as an excuse. If no grown-ups are around and you’re out with your friends when you hear or witness domestic violence, gather your courage and ring the bell as a group – you could save someone’s life by interrupting the violence. Check out what this group of kids did in a PSA by our partner, Breakthrough:
Ideas For Kids and Teens #10: Use Your Birthday For Good. For your next birthday, start a collection drive by asking your friends and family members to contribute items needed by your local women’s shelter instead of bringing you a birthday gift. There are plenty of women’s shelters that accept donations in the form of clothes, bed linens, grocery gift cards, feminine hygiene products, toys and books for kids, and diapers for young children. Encourage your female friends and family members to donate clothing that they no longer need. It is important that the clothing donated is still usable, as some of the women receiving the clothes will likely wear donated items to job interviews or legal settings such as divorce/custody court.
Ideas For Kids and Teens #11: Volunteer In Your Spare Time. Young people are a talented bunch, so transform your talents into a superpower for good by helping anti-VAW organisations to raise funds or get things done. Here are just some of the things that you could do: If you are a whiz at building websites and programming, check in with local crisis centres that could use help keeping their websites up, or could just need computer assistance and maintenance. If you’re good at Photoshop, sign up to help design posters and flyers for your local women’s shelter’s next fundraiser. If you are well-versed at using Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram or any other social media networks, offer to help keep your local anti-VAW organisation’s social media account up-to-date.
Ideas For Kids and Teens #12: Social Media Rule #1 – Share to Care! If you’re a teenager on social media be it Tumblr, Instagram, or any other social media network, use your social media account to help raise awareness about VAW. Follow the social media accounts of anti-VAW activists and organisations and start sharing some of the news links, information, and pictures they share with their followers. You don’t need to reblog/retweet/share everything they do but if you see something you think is interesting, share it. Information is power and the one helping to spread the right information is powerful.
Ideas For Kids and Teens #13: Join The Online Intervention Brigade. According to UN Women, online VAW is rising as increased access to the internet collides with existing cultural and social norms that condone or perpetuate gender-based violence and misogyny. Young women in the age range of 18 to 24 are uniquely likely to experience online stalking and sexual harassment in addition to physical threats. If someone in your social media community exhibits this type of behaviour, take action to intervene safely in a number of ways. Talk privately to other members of the forum, page or community about what is happening and get their support to back each other up when facing down aggressive and misogynistic groups. Similarly, when you see someone courageously taking a cyber VAW perpetrator to task, chime in. This action has 3 effects: it lets the upstander know that someone else agrees with them; it signals to the victim that the community will not stand for the treatment she is receiving; and it lets the perpetrator(s) know that more than one person is calling out their behaviour.
Ideas For Kids and Teens #14: Break The Silence. Kids and teens from abusive families or communities that practice culturally-sanctioned VAW such as FGM are often taught or forced by grown-ups and elders to keep silent about what’s happening. Threats of punishment, guilt manipulation, and enforced isolation from the wider community are often used to keep kids and teens from getting help for themselves or their mothers and sisters. If you are a kid or teen in that situation, please know that you are not alone and that help is out there but you need to reach out to get it (or know how to accept it). Here are a couple of potential ‘first steps’ you can take: if you are part of an online community, reach out to your friends there to ask for help; if your teacher asks you to stay back because he or she notices that something is wrong, tell them what’s happening at home.
Ideas For Kids and Teens #15: Be A Friend. If you suspect that your friend and/or their female family member is suffering from any form of VAW, take action. Don’t stay silent if you notice bruises on them or that your friend has become uncharacteristically silent or angry all the time. Encourage your friend to talk about it with you and listen to them. If they are open to it, encourage them to report what’s happening to the authorities (and when they do, be there to support them). If you’re an older teen at a party, you see that your female friend is drunk, and a boy is propositioning her even though she cannot give consent, step in and offer to take her home if you can drive or order a cab and put her in it to send her home. If you feel like you are out of your depth about helping your friend, tell teachers, coaches, school counsellors and other grown-ups who can help.
Ideas For Kids and Teens #16: Adults Needs Reminders Too. Last but not least – grown-ups may be in charge but that doesn’t mean they are perfect or will do the right thing. Too many adults are good people who turn a blind eye when they see VAW happening. Some of them might feel that it’s pointless to intervene; some of them may be afraid to do so for fear of breaking social taboos; some of them may think that VAW is normal. If the grown-ups around you are reluctant to intervene to stop VAW happening to friends, neighbours, and family members because they believe it’s “none of our business”, give them a nudge to do the right thing by reminding them that VAW is wrong and woman and kids next door and/or in your family and community could get hurt or worse – killed.
As a young person, you have the power to shape a future where VAW becomes socially unacceptable. Someday, you might be that police detective who puts away a rapist, a teacher who stops a girl from being forced into marriage, or a politician who pushes through legislation to outlaw FGM for good. Today? Start by by doing what you can, where you are, with whatever you have – you never know whether one small action will start a whole movement for change.