Girls deserve better: countering violence against adolescents through social protection
The webinar “Girls deserve better: countering violence against adolescents through social protection”, held on April 11, 2023, approached the risks of GBV faced by adolescent girls and how to tailor social protection to respond to them. The speakers were Nontokozo Langwenya, PhD Student from the Department of Social Policy and Intervention, Universities of Oxford and Cape Town; Sergio de Marco, Country Director for Innovations for Poverty Action (Peru, Paraguay & Dominican Republic); and Christiana Gbedemah, Social Policy Specialist, and Miho Yoshikawa, Child Protection Specialist, both from UNICEF Ghana. The session was moderated by Lauren Whitehead, Social Protection and Gender Lead, UNICEF New York Headquarters.
This is the first session of a joint webinar and podcast series named “Social protection for prevention of and response to Gender-Based Violence (GBV)”, organized by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia (DFAT), and co-organized by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the United Kingdom (FCDO) and the Social Protection Technical Assistance, Advice and Resources Facility (STAAR), with support from socialprotection.org. The series’ goal is to provide an opportunity for actors to raise the profile of this issue, as well as to disseminate evidence of what works in practice and advocating further thinking and multisectoral delivery. Each session delves into specific subtopics.
The full recording of the webinar is available here and the slide presentation is here.
Whitehead started the webinar by setting the scene on violence against children and adolescents, how adolescence might expose girls to vulnerability, and how social protection can prevent and address GBV. It is important to note that adolescent girls are at double disadvantage, due to age and gender. Worryingly, in 36 out of the 54 countries where IPV was investigated using Demographic and Health Surveys, a range of 20% to 55% of the adolescent girls aged between 15 to 19 years old have experienced physical or sexual violence. It is estimated that 1 in 3 women aged 15 or older have experienced IPV, non-partner sexual violence or both. Violence negatively affects health (physical and mental) and social development, as well as increases the likelihood of early pregnancy, contracting sexually transmitted infections and substance abuse.
Evidence has overall shown that social protection can address violence’s social and economic impacts on women, especially cash transfers when combined with other initiatives – e.g., by increasing income security, empowering women, engaging men and boys on behavioural change, and linking victims of GBV to referral services. Particularly for adolescent girls, social protection can strengthen gender equity by incentivizing education, facilitating access to menstrual hygiene products and to sexual and reproductive health (enabling continuing school and increasing future earning potentials), decreasing social and economic incentives for child marriage, and linking GBV victims to support services. The guest panellists contextualized this discussion in specific case studies.
Accelerating Sexual Violence Prevention for Adolescent Girls. The Role of Social Protection
Focusing on two cohorts from South Africa, Langwenya presented on how adolescent girls can be protected from IPV via gender-sensitive and responsive social protection. Since adolescents are exposed to both childhood sexual violence and IPV, there is a call to better understand specific vulnerabilities during this phase of life and how they can be protected. As figure 1 shows, among the Mzantsi Wakho cohort, there is no specific age when children start experiencing sexual violence, while exploitative sexual violence  significantly increases when adolescents reach 15 years old. The second cohort of the Hey Baby study, is composed of adolescent mothers from the first cohort, who were in average 16.7 years old. It stands out that 92 per cent of the Hey Baby mothers had unwanted pregnancies and that the COVID-19 crisis worsened the IPV  faced by these adolescents.
Figure 1: Prevalence of sexual violence by age group, cohort Mzantsi Wakho
Source: Langwenya’s presentation
Data from the first cohort showed that cash transfers can reduce abuse as well increase the likelihood of continuing school and engaging in HIV care. These results are amplified if cash transfers are combined with other forms of prevention – i.e., safe schools and parenting support. It is important to note that context does matter and for cohorts in other countries other social protection multisectoral initiatives presented more effective results. In Sierra Leone, for instance, the combination of microfinance with the availability of sexual and reproductive health services led to a reduction on unwanted sex and sex exploitation for girls. In Zimbabwe, combined microgrants and health education led to a reduction in physical and sexual violence faced by girls.
Engaging men to reduce gender-based violence through evidence driven approaches. Collaboration with the Ministry of Women (MoW) in Peru
Sergio de Marco
During his presentation, de Marco discussed the Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA)’s impact evaluation portfolio in Peru, together with MoW, highlighting three specific projects: the Leaders in Action, the Men for Equality, and the Real Man Challenge. IPA has been collaborating with MoW to foster the generation and use of evidence, and programmatic learning cycles.
The Leaders in Action is a flagship programme headed by the Peruvian government, which aims to prevent and reduce GBV through structurally changing social norms and beliefs. Community leaders are trained to become Facilitators, and train other members of their social networks as Community Agents. They organize awareness and mobilization campaigns, such as door-to-door visits, training other members of the community and involving key stakeholders. More than 90% of the volunteer facilitators were women, though the program aimed to achieve a balance of female and male facilitators. To address it, a training group only for men was developed, aided by the use of telenovelas – which became known as Men for Equality. These male facilitators then selected peers to join as well.
The Real Man Challenge consists of a thirty-day WhatsApp messaging programme for men aged 18-60 years, to reduce IPV by building their skills (in communication, emotional regulation, sexual pleasure, consent, and finance) via discussions about masculinity norms. The programme’s framing is a key design feature that stands out: it is pitched for participants as a tool to improve their relationship with their partners (rather than specifically to address IPV). However this approach had a significant positive effect on reducing IPV. Regarding boys, de Marco pointed out that they are indirectly benefitted since they may be exposed to a more gender equitable environment and repeat this behavior with their partners now and later. Moreover, the course content could be adapted for them and delivered online or in schools with parental consent.
This programme was inspired by similar initiatives conducted by IPA in Liberia and Uganda. As in Langwenya’s presentation, de Marco highlighted the importance of adapting to the local context. While in Uganda leaders recruited participants from their network, in Peru the most effective recruitment strategy was via social media advertising. Further, the Peruvian facilitators were hired and paid, and not volunteers.
How can social protection and integrated social services play a role in preventing and addressing GBV and child marriage?
Miho Yoshikawa and Christiana Gbedemah
Yoshikawa and Gbedemah started the presentation contextualizing child marriage and IPV in Ghana. Over 1 in 3 Ghanaian girls aged 15-19 years old reported facing at least one episode of sexual violence. Although there was a decrease in child marriage in the country in the last decades, still 1 in 5 girls under the age of 18 is married or in an informal union. In Ghana, evidence shows that child marriage is strongly linked to IPV.
Currently, Ghana is one of the 12 countries implementing the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage, which seeks to address the root causes of child marriage in an integrated fashion, including mitigating multidimensional and monetary poverty. Particularly, UNICEF Ghana is supporting the country’s government to improve multi-sectoral service delivery through (i) the Integrated Social Services (ISS) initiative and (ii) the Ghanaian flagship cash transfer programme, Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP).
Implemented by 7 government agencies, the ISS initiative aims to link beneficiaries of child protection or social protection services with the other, including vital health services. This is intended to tackle multiple vulnerabilities faced by children and their families – including child marriage and early pregnancy. Key linkages and referrals through ISS are supported through capacity building on case management procedures, the roll out of the Social Welfare Management Information System (which facilitates multisectoral delivery), strengthened delivery of cash plus services for LEAP beneficiaries (as access to health insurance and nutritional services), and social behaviour change activities. Figure 2 summarizes key results and lessons learnt.
Figure 2: ISS and LEAP key results and lessons learnt
Source: Yoshikawa and Gbedemah’s presentation
Concerning ways forward for programming and research, the two panelists highlighted the need to improve referral from social welfare services to justice in cases of GBV and child marriage. Also, extra effort is needed to reach the most marginalized girls, by leveraging LEAP and providing cash plus services, and further investigating barriers hindering access to services. Finally, UNICEF Ghana is supporting the operationalization of a gender-transformative approach into the country´s programming, by employing the UNICEF-UNFPA Gender-Transformative Accelerator Tool approach.
The webinar concluded with a Q&A discussion that addressed, among other topics, social behaviour change communications and targeting methodologies for identifying at risk groups. You can watch the full Q&A discussion here.
 Forms of sexual violence measured in the study presented by Langwenya, Mzantsi Wakho cohort: (i) non-contact – unwanted showing of private parts; (ii) contact: coerced sexual debut, attempted and completed forced penetrative or oral sex, attempted or completed forced/coerced touching of private parts; (iii) exploitative – sex in exchange of goods/money.
 Forms of IPV measured in the study presented by Langwenya, Hey Baby cohort: (i) psychological – insulted/belittled/done things to scare or intimidate you on purpose? (ii) physical – threatened to hurt you or someone you care about? Has he slapped, pushed, or shoved you, hit you with a fist, kicked you, dragged or choked or burnt you on purpose? (iii) sexual – forced or coerced sexual intercourse? Has he forced you to do something sexual that you found degrading or humiliating?