Sometimes in our approach to safeguarding, we think our only responsibility is to protect young women and girls when they are in our care. We also think it’s our responsibility to prepare them to recognise risks and abuses that they may experience – or already be experiencing. 

If we want to genuinely empower young women, we must help them make informed decisions. We see in the girls that we work with that we can talk in theory about rights, for example, but they need to see it modelled to understand it. Often we work with young women and girls who have never been valued, even by their families, beyond their ability to contribute to the family. It may have never occurred to them a life where they could be valued, and where abuses are not normal.

Women and girls face risks throughout our lives, and it’s important that we are aware of those affecting the women and girls we work with – and even us ourselves. Sometimes these can be so common that we forget about them, or we can even perpetuate them. 

We did this exercise, and here are some examples of what we came up with in only ten minutes:  

In society women and girls may face: 

  • Racial discrimination, or discrimination based on their ethnic backgrounds, such as their tribe or national origins
  • Basic amenities being not available to people
  • Human Rights not respected
  • Girls are expected to get married at a young age, and may not choose who they marry
  • Law and policies to protect women and girls e.g. rights within marriage, or rights to safety and not enforced, and police and judges are corrupt so women
  • Risk of unsafe migration/ trafficking in their communities
  • Girls who wear the hijab (Muslim hair covering) may be excluded
  • Girls are encouraged to use sex to pay for transport and fees when they are in need
  • Sugar daddies are normal, and older men engage in exploitative relationships with young women and girls 
  • Politicians may abuse or control people in the community through their power and influence
  • Widows may be  expected to marry a husband’s brother in some African cultures and then stripped of their assets/ removed from the home if they refuse
  • Students are abused sexually by lecturers and teachers to get better grades
  • People live in unsafe accommodation and are at risk of assault and burglary
  • Workplace: potential for harassment/ threats from bosses, co-workers and customers

In their Relationships

  • Emotional abuse
  • Women and girls lack confidence and self-esteem if their families don’t love and value them
    • Families may push girls into risky situations (migrating for work, child labour, sugar daddy relationships) when they don’t have the means or desire to support them
  • Families may pressure girls to marry to elevate their social status or for other reasons
  • Girls may be sexually abused by an older brother/ cousin/ father/stepdad/ or uncle
    • Girls may believe or be told that they can only get a job or promotion by sleeping with the person hiring or their manager
  • Where there is a high amount of abuse within families, and it is normalised, girls may only realise that what happened was wrong at a later point in time

Girls placing themselves at risk

  • Girls taking a drug known as tramadol so they don’t feel hungry when they haven’t eaten all-day 
  • Girls selling by the road running out to cars while cars are moving to sell things 
    • Selling to people who tell them to come to dangerous places to collect their money.
  • Girls having absorbed the idea of what is a ‘good girl’ – obedient to elders, seeing girls who have married of their own choice or that have asserted themselves for freedom as ‘wrong/ bad’ even by the girls themselves. Even though they know following the norms will cause them suffering. 

Reflection Questions

  • Undertake this exercise!
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