From babyhood to adulthood, children are exposed to many forms of violence, no matter where they live.
Black adolescent boys in the United States are 19 times more likely to die than white boys of the same age, and face a similar risk of dying as their peers in the conflict zones of South Sudan. Latin America and the Caribbean have the highest child murder rates in the world. Around 300 million two-to-four-year-olds globally will experience physical punishment or verbal abuse by their parents or caretakers. And at least 15 million girls will have been sexually abused or raped by their 19th birthdays.
These are just some of the alarming findings of two wide-ranging global reports on violence against children. Both reports point to two major challenges: getting countries to gather better data on the various types of violence against children, which so often happens inside the home and/or by people known to the children, and taking steps to put an end to it.
There are still big gaps in knowledge, with many countries completely in the dark about the extent to which their child citizens are victims of violence. Even countries with better statistics have no idea how much corporal punishment happens in homes for example, or of the extent to which boys experience physical and sexual violence. All too often, violence against children is shrouded in secrecy.
Know Violence in Childhood, a global initiative to end violence against children, released a detailed report informed by 44 research papers, thousands of articles, reports and other sources. Although the report presents a global picture, the authors state that “reliable data on inter-personal violence in childhood are difficult to obtain. This is partly because such violence takes place within relationships and is hidden by a strong culture of silence”. And many children and women are reluctant to report violence because of the stigma and fear of repercussions.
UNICEF’s report, A Familiar Face: Violence in the Lives of Children and Adolescents, builds on their seminal 2014 report on child violence statistics, Hidden in Plain Sight, which compiled data from 190 countries. Their new report contains updated statistics and analysis and notes that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include targets to wipe out violence against children by 2030, offer the potential get better data on the crimes, ensure that monitoring takes place, that countries are held to account and most importantly, that they take proactive steps to stop it.
Although much more information is now available on violence against children than it was a few years ago, the gaps make it hard to compare countries with each other and for states to report and measure their progress on the SDGs.
Goal 5 (gender equality) and Goal 16 (peace) contain specific targets aimed at stopping violence against children but many of the other goals indirectly address some of the drivers of this violence too, including poverty, lack of education and poor health.
Nevertheless, if more progress is not made and if current trends continue, “close to two million children and adolescents could be killed by an act of violence by the year 2030”, warn the authors of the UNICEF report. And whether violence ends in death or not, the effects of pervasive and various forms of abuse throughout childhood have an insidious impact on society in general, says Know Violence Global Co-Chair A.K. Shiva Kumar.
“From severe physical punishment to sexual abuse to homicide, childhood violence damages individuals, families and communities in both rich countries and poor, with a cost in trillions of dollars a year.”
Violence against children is closely tied up with violence against women. Children who see their mothers abused will more likely perpetrate violence themselves, warn the experts.
Childhood violence occurs in many forms – corporal punishment in the home and at school; physical, sexual and emotional abuse by adults or peers.
“Beyond the immediate physical damage it causes, exposure to violence can traumatize children, harm school performance, lead to depression and other illnesses, and increase the chances that young people will become the victims or perpetrators of violence in the future,” say the Know Violence in Childhood authors.
The UNICEF report cites an emerging body of research that shows the toxic effects of violence and other trauma on the developing brains of children in the first 1,000 days of their lives.
Violence not only threatens children’s physical safety but their cognitive and emotional development too. This is particularly disturbing given that data from 30 countries showed that nearly half of all one-to-two-year-olds were verbally abused or received corporal punishment.
Online violence is another emerging category of violence as more and more children around the world gain access to the Internet. Online bullying, harassment, sexual extortion and “grooming” for sex and child pornography are now the shadow side of increasing interconnectedness between children and their peers or with adult strangers, including those in far-flung parts of the globe.
Yet there is still a great deal of public ignorance about the many forms of violence that children experience. According to the UNICEF report, “Despite a growing awareness of the global nature of violence against children, the misconception that it is relatively rare persists. Media reporting typically focuses on extreme cases, such as death or rape. And while such tragedies, thankfully, are relatively uncommon, other acts of violence are not.” The authors also conclude that two out of three violent acts against children and adolescents are inter-personal rather than a result of broader conflict or civil unrest.
Although both reports make the point that violence happens across all economic strata, in rich and poor countries, low-income and high-income families, three regions in Africa nevertheless take the top three spots in tables compiled by Know Violence in Childhood for 2015: West and Central Africa, Eastern and Southern Africa, and Middle East and North Africa. These regions have the highest combined totals for the following categories: corporal punishment; bullying and physical fights; physical and sexual violence against girls; and child homicide. Although Latin America and the Caribbean have the highest rate of child murder, the other forms of violence are far lower in these regions. Industrialized countries have the lowest rates of all these categories combined. Another statistic shows that sexual violence against girls is worst in Eastern and Southern Africa, followed by West and Central Africa and Middle East and North Africa.
So what steps do experts recommend for taking steps to end the many forms of violence against children? As UNICEF says, “It will take individual and collective action to right this global wrong.” Measures must be taken at state, community and inter-personal levels, say the experts. Outlawing violence is a first step. So far, only 60 of 193 UN member states prohibit corporal punishment in the home. In schools, corporal punishment is either partly or fully illegal in roughly 130 countries.
Other steps include addressing the socio-economic conditions that perpetuate the violence such as unemployment, poverty, substance abuse and the like. And hopefully the SDGs will help build public awareness and pressure countries to come on board with clear efforts to prevent it.
Raising awareness in communities and among parents and caregivers on the rights of children and on the toxic effects of violence against them, as well as helping them find different strategies to manage children’s behavior, are among the recommendations the Know Violence in Childhood report makes.
Tackling hierarchical school systems that allow corporal punishment and other violence such as bullying is another. UNICEF is partnering with school programs to help teachers use strategies that promote better behavior rather than resort to punishment. The organization, a partner in the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, has also developed a program called INSPIRE, which aims to spread awareness around programs that have been shown to work.
And, despite the downside of so many children being online, there is an upside too: technology can also protect children, with online awareness raising campaigns or mobile phone map applications, for example, that can help keep them safe.
4 Ways Women Can Better Advocate For Their Own Health
One morning, when I was 14 years old, I woke up with excruciating stomach pain—the worst I’d ever had. My mom took me to urgent care, and the doctors there concluded that I had gastritis, or essentially a “bad stomach ache.”
But I knew they were wrong. I knew it was more than just a bad stomach ache. I kept pushing my parents until they finally took me to the hospital. After doing a variety of exams, the doctors said something along the lines of, “We really can’t find what’s wrong, but you seem to be in a lot of pain.” They gave me two options: wait four hours until the next available CAT scan, or let them do exploratory surgery and see what they find.
I decided to do the exploratory surgery. It ended up being a major, major surgery—over six hours long—and they found a tear in my intestine. They had to remove about 10 feet of my intestine, and it turns out that if I had waited for the CAT scan, I actually would have died. So, I like to say that that was the first time I learned how to trust my gut (in this case, my literal gut).
I think about this experience all the time, but I found myself reflecting on it even more as I was reading my friend Dr. Alyson McGregor’s new book, Sex Matters: How Male-Centric Medicine Endangers Women’s Health and What We Can Do About It. I don’t know how much of my near-death experience was linked to my being female, but I do know that when it comes to our medical system, women have consistently experienced poorer outcomes in every area of health than men.
McGregor writes: “One of the biggest and most flawed assumptions in medicine is this: if it makes sense in a male body, it must make sense in a female one.”
Our methods for evaluating, diagnosing, and treating disease for both men and women are based on previous research performed on male bodies. But women are physiologically different from men on every level—and these differences can have major impacts on everything in medicine, from how drugs are prescribed, to how routine tests are performed, to how pain is assessed and treated, to how systemic disease is diagnosed.
Here’s an example. Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women, but women have statistically poorer outcomes and higher mortality. Why? Because women’s symptoms are simply different from men’s. While men might experience left arm pain and chest heaviness (“typical” heart disease symptoms), women often present with only mild pain and discomfort, possibly combined with fatigue, shortness of breath, and a strong feeling that “something isn’t right.” Since women’s symptoms are not the symptoms that doctors typically associate with heart disease, their heart disease is 50 percent more likely to be initially misdiagnosed.
There are hundreds more examples like this one. It’s clear that there is work to do when it comes to unconscious biases in medicine—but, as women, how can we best advocate for our health and ensure that our concerns are heard and taken seriously?
1. Be prepared.
Your doctor may have gone through years of medical school, but that doesn’t mean they’re all-knowing. Research your conditions, your prescriptions, and how your prescriptions interact with each other. This way, you can have an informed conversation with your physician if something is wrong. Also, keep an up-to-date list of your prescriptions and allergies with you at all times so that any provider who cares for you will have all of the information they need.
2. Ask questions.
Even after you do your research, you may still have questions. Don’t be afraid to ask them—especially gender-specific ones. For example, “Has this medication been tested in women? If, so are there different dosing guidelines?” Or, “Will this prescription/test/procedure affect my birth control/pregnancy/breastfeeding?” It’s important to make sure you’re not only being treated for the correct conditions, but also that you’re being treated properly as a woman with those conditions.
3. Trust yourself.
Just like 14-year-old me trusted her (literal) gut! No one’s voice should take precedence over yours when it comes to your body and your health care. As women, we tend to be more attuned to our own bodies than men. We are more likely to notice symptoms when they first appear, and we usually seek treatment more frequently and earlier than men. If you feel like you’re being misdiagnosed or undertreated, keep pushing until you get answers—your life may depend on it.
4. Make your voice heard.
It’s important to advocate for yourself on an individual level, but you may be inspired to do even more. Financially, you can donate to research and advocacy foundations, or even specific research projects within your local universities and hospitals. Other effective advocacy ideas that don’t cost anything are to join a medical research trial, join a support group, or harness the power of social media to share your story. Any of this could be what makes it possible for others to get the treatment they need.
The Mother-Daughter Duo Behind A New Inclusive Community Teaching Budding Professionals How To Better Engage At Work
Edith Cooper, who spent more than 20 years as an executive at Goldman Sachs, knows what it’s like to stand out in a workplace. Being one of few people of color in a sea of white faces over the course of her career hasn’t been easy. But rather than dwell on this reality, Cooper, who now sits on the boards of Etsy and Slack, has championed her differences. That’s what helped her rise through the ranks at the bank to eventually head its human resources department, an accomplishment she says was a result of her ability to connect with people of all backgrounds.
That quality would continue to work to her advantage: As Goldman Sachs evolved, so did its staff. Diversity was reflected not only in employees’ skin colors and genders, but also in their ages and geographical origins. Cooper was awakened to the fact that if the company was going to thrive, it would need to create an environment wherein its multifaceted staff could feel comfortable embracing their differences and, in turn, learn from them.
“If you can figure out an environment where people can thrive together, it’s powerful,” Cooper says. But it’s a process that takes time, especially if newer, more inexperienced employees aren’t equipped with the proper skills to navigate this balance between professionalism and open expression.
That is in part what inspired Cooper’s new startup, Medley, which she launched with her daughter Jordan Taylor, a former chief of staff at Mic and Harvard Business School Baker Scholar, to provide a community in which young professionals can gain the skills they need to bring their most authentic selves to work without fear. In light of the heightened tension surrounding ongoing racial injustice that’s inevitably seeping into workplace communication, it’s an ideal time to learn this skill.
Taylor has also had her fair share of experiences being the “only one in the room,” but as an emerging leader, rather than an established executive like her mother. Graduating in the top 5% of her class and being one the first 20 Black students to be named a Baker Scholar meant she was constantly figuring out how to relate to peers in predominantly white spaces. She figured it out, but Medley is a platform she wishes had been around when she was finding her voice among people whose backgrounds were much different than hers.
Medley groups young professionals in their 20s and 30s with other like-minded members whose workplace values, concerns and priorities align. The professionals that make up these eight-person groups differ, however, in terms of gender and ethnic background, which Cooper and Taylor hope will translate to increased empathy that members can apply within their respective workplaces.
“This idea of people being able to bring their true selves to work and to be able to talk through what that looks like is at the core of what Medley is offering,” says Cooper.
In addition to full access to workshops, panels and conversations led by experts across industries, members commit to a 90-minute virtual meeting each month, facilitated by a Medley-certified coach and focused on addressing and reflecting on ongoing experiences in their personal and professional lives. Cooper credits Medley’s robust network of coaches to the guidance she gained from Merche Del Valle, former global head of coaching at Goldman Sachs and a certified lifestyle, nutrition and wellness coach.
Merging personal wellness and professional development in group discussions is a priority. “You can’t just look at your career in a vacuum,” says Taylor. “In order to meet your potential, the ability to have a more holistic approach is incredibly important.”
To ensure that people of all socioeconomic backgrounds have the ability to join the community, Medley offers a sliding scale fee ranging from $50 to $250, depending on the financial situation of prospective members. Cooper and Taylor are also in conversations with companies interested in partnering with Medley to give their staff reimbursement for membership.
With the help of investors including Away cofounder Jen Rubio, dtx company founder and CEO Tim Armstrong and MIC cofounder and former CEO Chris Altchek, who contributed more than $1 million to the project, Medley was ready to launch in May 2020 as an in-person membership hub in New York City. Shelter-in-place mandates halted the launch, but also presented an opportunity for Medley to instead be virtual and incorporate international members. The more springing corporate workers that can benefit from the community’s aim to build the next generation of confident, communicative professionals the better, the mother-daughter team notes.
“Medley gives people an opportunity to be a better human in relation to the people they work with and quite frankly in society,” Taylor says.
Op-Ed: Women Empowerment During The Covid-19 Pandemic
Looking at Covid-19 through a gender lens
Our world has undoubtedly been changed forever by the Covid-19 pandemic, as all efforts are focused on slowing down the increase and mitigating the impact of this silent enemy that has spread across the world like wildfire. Not only have there been many lives lost, but there have also been many businesses and millions of jobs impacted, which in turn directly affects millions of families. It doesn’t help that most countries around the world were already in distress with high levels of unemployment and devastating droughts as a result of climate change, which were already making it very difficult for families to put food on the table. As the world tries to deal with this pandemic, I can’t help but think about what will happen to the efforts that have been made to help empower adolescent girls over the past few years.
Empowering girls, empowering communities
What makes this demographic more important than all the others? This is not just about the fight for women’s equal rights or the fight for equal pay, although those are valid and ongoing necessary discussions. This is about giving the adolescent girl a decent and fair start in her life, so she can have a better shot at being successful. So, with the current global crisis we find ourselves in, will the cause to empower young women remain on the world’s agenda or will this slide down to the bottom of the priority list?
Standard Chartered Bank has been running a young girls’ empowerment programme called Goal, which is our flagship programme under Futuremakers. Futuremakers by Standard Chartered is our global initiative to tackle inequality and promote greater economic inclusion for young people in our communities, especially those who are disadvantaged. The Goal programme specifically aims to equip young girls with the confidence, knowledge and skills they need to fulfil their economic potential. The programme was launched in New Delhi in 2006 with just 70 girls. I count myself fortunate to have been part of the team that was involved in the launch of the pilot programme, along with my colleagues and a very perceptive NGO partner who believed that together we could make an impact on these young girls and their community.
Developing confidence and vital life skills
Sometimes when the challenge seems insurmountable, what you need are individuals and partners who simply believe that you can still make a difference, regardless of the arduous journey ahead of you. In a country of over a billion people, what impact can you really make by reaching just 70 girls? Fourteen years later, Goal is now active in 24 countries, including South Africa (since 2015), and has impacted nearly 600,000 adolescent girls globally between 2006 and 2019 – and that number is growing. This means that over half a million families are also impacted, as these girls carry the message back home. When you empower a girl, you empower a community.
Goal is based on face-to-face interaction with these young women, which presents a challenge during a pandemic. The programme is run by Goal Champions who have graduated from the programme themselves and this is one of the elements that makes Goal sustainable, as it focuses on the ‘train the trainer’ approach. After completing the one-year programme, the girls come out with confidence and skills that they would otherwise have not acquired – our post programme scores have proved that every single time. In 2019, we commissioned a global development think tank called Overseas Development Institute (ODI) to assess Goal’s impact. Over 18,000 girls were surveyed and there were over 300 interviews and focus groups with the young girls, parents, teachers, community leaders and the boys in those communities. The research found strong evidence of Goal’s positive and lasting impact on the girls, as the results showed a 14 percent increase in self-confidence, a 28 percent increase in knowledge about health and an 18 percent increase in knowledge about savings and finance.
The gender gap and GDP
Then Covid-19 happened to all of us, accompanied by varying levels of lockdowns, and along with that a halt to the valuable regular face-to-face sessions that a lot of these young Goal girls look forward to – an opportunity to be in a safe environment, playing sport with their peers, and learning about their rights, the importance of understanding reproductive health, saving money, and many other life skills.
Data is always important when presenting such arguments. According to one of the Goldman Sachs Global Economic papers, GDP growth rates rise if education pushes more women into the labour force. This makes gender equality not just an imperative but a valid economic argument. It seems the ‘poorer’ a country, the higher the literacy differential between females and males.
Apart from the inhumane forced child marriages that are still happening in this modern day and age in some countries, research also tells us that most girls without a secondary education are likely to have their first baby at a younger age, and in turn, there is a higher chance that this child will die before they are five years old. Chances are also higher that these young girls will have many more children than they can afford to raise in a way that they would like to. It becomes an ongoing vicious cycle and we need to do everything in our power to break that cycle – one girl at a time.
Looking toward the future
We need to remember that these adolescent girls are still very much a vulnerable group and we should not divert our attention away from them as we try and manage the ongoing pandemic. The two need not be exclusive. In fact, we have seen how gender-based violence has escalated during the lockdowns in many countries, including here in South Africa, and I shudder to think how much of this has been directed towards young girls by the very people who are meant to take care of and protect them.
In the last few years, there has been an ongoing debate in some quarters that we mustn’t leave the boys behind as we empower the young girls and this a valid discussion to have. As a mother to a teenage son, I totally agree – my intention is to raise a well-rounded young man who will be a responsible member of society and who respects women.
In fact, in some of our markets where Goal has advanced, we do have boys on the programme, but the reality is we need to double our efforts in uplifting adolescent girls to get them just to be on an ‘equal footing’ with the boys. Research has also proved that in countries where education levels are low, the economic performance of that country is equally impacted. What is the saying – when you empower and educate a girl, you empower a community. What’s not to love about that?
– Geraldine Matchaba, Head of Corporate Affairs and Brand & Marketing at Standard Chartered.
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