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Girls' Experiences of Violence

Girls' Experiences of Violence

1 in 3 women and girls experience violence in their lifetime and global research has indicated that violence is one of the key barriers to gender equality.

On International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the start of 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, Lili Harris, Research Manager of Real Choices, Real Lives, discusses findings from the study and how violence is affecting girls’ everyday lives.  

Girls in the study talk about their experience of violence at home, at school and in their wider communities. They do not feel safe. Both the fear and the fact of violence caps girls' confidence and limits their opportunities.

About the Real Choices, Real Lives study

Our Real Choices, Real Lives study is a unique longitudinal research project, tracking 142 girls and their families in nine countries from birth in 2006 up to the age of 18 in 2024. By following this group of girls and their families over a long period of time, we are able to understand how gender roles, identities and behaviours are shaped from birth and how these may shift, or stay the same, as the girls get older.

We collect information annually from the girls and their families on a wide range of topics, such as education, health and attitudes towards girls’ empowerment. All the girls and their families live in poverty, so the study is particularly interested in understanding how and why poverty impacts on the girls’ and their families’ lives.

A group of girls in Cambodia

Gender based violence at age 11

This year, the girls in the study turned 11 years old. We began to look back at our 11 years of research to try and understand the girls’ and their families’ experiences of violence during their lives so far. The findings are published in our new report: ‘Violence in Girls’ Daily Lives’.

In our wider work at Plan International UK, we know that gender based violence is a key barrier to achieving gender equality. Shockingly, for nearly all of the girls in the Real Choices, Real Lives study, violence, and the risk of it (physical, verbal and sexual) at home, school and in the community is part of their daily lives, despite being only 11 years old.

Sometimes, I am worried about being raped, beaten and hit by a car or motorbike when I walk to school. After school, it is not as quiet as I have friends with me.

- Bopha, 11, Cambodia

Quotes like this from Bopha may be difficult for some people to comprehend, that even as an eleven-year-old girl, there is a threat and risk of sexual violence when going to and from school. However, for Bopha and many of the girls in this study, this is a daily reality that she is all too aware of.

Why does gender based violence increase in adolescence?

We know that gender based violence increases with age. Our study has shown that there has been a very significant rise in the frequency that girls are experiencing violence (or the threat of it) in their daily lives as soon as they enter adolescence.

With adolescence comes puberty and at this point, girls are often prescribed sexualised identities by society. When this is combined with increasing pressure to conform to gender norms (or ideas of how girls should behave, think, talk, etc.) it can often mean an increase in gender based violence, or the threat of it.

Where do girls experience violence?

Our study has shown that violence occurs in all aspects of girls’ lives: at home, school and in their communities.

Violence at school is the most frequent type of violence that girls experience and it is often other children, particularly boys, who are the main perpetrators.

We can see that the girls in our study are reducing the time they spend with boys at school as a result, and this is leading to segregation between boys and girls at school – something which does little to support gender equality.

They [the boys] don’t do anything in class, they go into the toilets when I’m peeing, they push the door to see the girls who are peeing.

- Griselda, 10, Dominican Republic

We’ve seen that already the girls in our study, and their families, are adapting their behaviours as well as their aspirations in order to reduce the risk of sexual violence. For example, some of the girls are changing their route to school to avoid violent neighbourhoods and risky situations, and other girls tell us that they are too scared of using the school toilets because boys can see them.

All of these actions have an impact on the girls’ enjoyment at school, and their ability to learn and develop into who they want to be in the future.

How will we use our evidence?

The Real Choices, Real Lives study will continue to track the girls and their families over time, until 2024, when the girls are 18. We will have a wealth of evidence to understand the patterns of gender based violence throughout the life-cycle (from birth to adolescence).

We will be able to use the evidence from this ongoing research study to influence our policy and advocacy work, as well as develop strong programming in order to reduce gender based violence and contribute to efforts of equality worldwide.

Yes [it is dangerous for girls to walk to school alone] because there are a lot of crazy men drinking booze on the streets. The girls are more afraid… They’re afraid to walk alone at night

- Natália, 11, Brazil