One Billion Rising crowd

The Valentine's Day surprise no girl should ever receive

Teenage girls should be excited about Valentine’s Day, not fearful of sexual abuse

Today, on Valentine's Day, 600 girls and women will be raped in the US. That means there will be two more victims by the time you've finished reading this article.

On a day that's meant to be about hearts, roses and candlelit dinners for two, gender-based violence - whether it's sexual violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage or domestic abuse - is happening all around us.

In the UK, one in five of the girls over 16 that you know - your colleagues, neighbours, friends or family - has experienced some form of sexual violence.

Violence against girls and women

The figures are shocking, but this isn't just about big numbers. It's about girls and women around the world who have to deal with violent abuse every day.

In the past few weeks and months we've learned about Emily, a 15-year-old ninth-grader who ran away from her home in Boston because she was being controlled by a pimp; about Nada Al-Ahdal, the 11-year-old Yemeni girl who said she'd "rather die" than have an arranged marriage; and about Chepuso, a Ugandan teenager who suffered severe health problems - including fistula - after undergoing FGM at the age of 12.

These girls are among the 70 per cent of females worldwide who will experience violence at some point in their lives, according to UN Women.

Recent months have also seen yet another harrowing gang rape in India, where an unnamed 16-year-old girl from Calcutta was assaulted on two separate occasions - the second when she was returning from the police station after reporting the first. 

Sixty million girls like her are attacked while travelling to and from school every year, according to USAid. That's the equivalent of the entire UK population. Fortunately, most of those cases don't end as tragically as the 16-year-old Indian girl, who was eventually burned to death by her attackers. She was pregnant at the time of her death.

Demand change

For the second year running, V Day's One Billion Rising campaign is hijacking 14 February to demand an end to violence against girls and women (VAGW).

In 2013, one billion people in 207 countries took part in One Billion Rising. Today they are again calling on people everywhere to gather outside courthouses, police stations, government buildings, schools, offices and other places they have a right to be safe. But it's not just about dancing. So far the campaign has raised $100m and funded more than 13,000 community-based anti-violence programmes all over the world.

That's great progress, but the stories of violence that have emerged since the last Valentine's Day show that much more money, determination and innovative thinking is needed to keep girls safe. 

What you can do 

There are lots of ways to take a stand today and every day. 

Violence against women starts as violence against girls, so it's crucial girls are the focus of anti-violence campaigns and programmes.

Examples include WAGGS' Stop the Violence Campaign, which was developed using girl consultations; ActionAid's work to end FGM, which concentrates on setting up girls' clubs and rescue centres; and the HarassMap project, which removes the taboos around sexual harassment of girls through community and social networking.

You can also help Plan International, which has been doing excellent work to keep girls in the Philippines safe since Typhoon Haiyan.

This Valentine's Day, take a stand and #rise4justice. It's time to end violence against girls and women, once and for all. 

Do you know a great campaign aiming to end violence against girls? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter

Find out more about ending violence against girls