Girl smiling

We need to talk about violence against girls

She woke up to the sound of explosions. Peeking through a tear in her tent, she takes a solitary moment each morning to watch the clouds of smoke move across the sky.

Her stomach aching with hunger interrupts her thoughts. She can't remember the last time that she felt full, or even had a day when finding something to eat wasn't one of her biggest burdens. Like always, it will be really difficult to find food. She considers not bothering at all, but she needs to wash, so she braves it.

It's hot and dusty outside her tent, much like inside the tent, but out on the camp roads there are a lot of people looking for food and water. She hears men calling out to her, but she knows they're looking for something else. Last time she went to wash she spotted a pair of eyes watching her through the cracks in the shower unit. She's heard the rumours about girls being grabbed by grown men as they walk through camp.

Her fear consumes her: when will she stop feeling so afraid?


This experience isn't unique, or even rare. It's a daily reality for millions of girls in Syria - and the consequences are shocking. Parents are desperately trying to provide for and protect their daughters in the best way they see possible. This desperation, combined with the risk of sexual violence in refugee camps, has caused the number of early and forced marriages among Syrian refugee girls to double over the past three years.

Families are being forced to sell their daughters, and girls as young as 12 years old are being sold to men in Iraq and Saudi Arabia as well as Syria. Sexual abuse and trafficking has risen significantly due to lower levels of protection, and an organised trade in young girls has taken hold.

Girls are seen as a commodity. After being kidnapped, they are given to fighters as rewards or sold as sex slaves to men often much older than them. This happened to 150 unmarried girls who were selected and kidnapped from their small Yazidi village of Maturat just a couple of months ago.

"I want to stay and die here," is not what you would ever want to hear your younger sister say. But after being battered, bruised, raped and threatened with death every day, the emotional effects of the conflict are taking their toll, leaving girls psychologically scarred. 


Unfortunately, these levels of violence are not isolated to the war in Syria - they are instead just one part of a much larger, more global problem. This year's International Day of the Girl will address it square on, with a theme of empowering girls through ending violence. 

It's time to recognise that violence against girls is an extensive problem that extends far beyond the confines of a country or continent. New data launched this week by Plan International reveals that one-third of women have been raped or physically abused, 80 per cent of them by a partner or spouse. At the launch of the findings, CEO of Global Partnership for Education, Alice Albright, talked about where we go from here, stressing that "boys and young men must be engaged" for the situation to change.

So let's start by sharing the solutions that already exist, such as redefining masculinity and including boys and men in programmes designed to reduce violence. Or taking practical steps, such as asking girls to map out their route home and to identify areas in which they feel unsafe. 


On International Day of the Girl (IDG), everyone needs to get involved and take action, because we all have a part to play in ending violence against girls and women. Globally recognising the scale of violence girls face, and doing something about it, is crucial.

The Girl Declaration highlights the importance of ending violence against girls in goal three, which is all about safety. It recommends including targets in the post-2015 agenda that emphasise enforcing laws and resourcing child-protection systems. If you haven't already, sign up to support the Girl Declaration and spread the word by downloading the Girl Declaration Toolkit.

Plan's new It's A Girl Thing video highlights exactly what the world is like for girls right now. It's compelling watching, and by pressing play, you will understand the context and urgency of ending violence against girls in two minutes flat.

One of the most pervasive forms of violence against girls is child marriage, with a staggering 15million girls married each year before they are 18. You can take action against child marriage on IDG by supporting Girls Not Brides' campaignand spreading the word.

On Twitter, follow #IDG2014, to see a running feed of all the amazing events, discussions and content being published around the day. To show your support, tweet from your own handle using #IDG2014 and tag @girleffect.

Let's make this IDG one the world will never forget.