On the eve of International Day of the Girl Child, one young, brave and bold woman tweeted “5 years ago, I was shot in an attempt to stop me from speaking out for girls’ education. Today, I attend my first lecture at Oxford.”
Now a household name, Malala Yousafzai, a girl from Pakistan whose belief and commitment to stand up for the right to education led to violence that almost cost her her life.
Thankfully, Malala’s story does have a happy ending, but what about the girls who are unable to escape violence? The World Health Organisations estimates that 150 million girls worldwide are sexually assaulted every year, with many of the attacks occurring on the way to school or at school.
It isn’t just in other countries that girls face discrimination and disadvantage that impacts on their health, education and well-being. Here at home some forms of violence and abuse are on the rise. A recent NSPCC report states that in Wales between 2014-15 to 2015-16, there was an increase of 31% for the rape of girls age 16.
Improving the confidence of women and girls to report abuse is an essential first step to preventing and tackling such a persistent problem that often has devastating, long-term consequences.
The Well-being of Future Generations Act places a focus on prevention and encourages public bodies to work together to address such issues before they occur and prevent abusive behaviour from becoming entrenched.
Examples such as the South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner’s ‘Change that Lasts’ framework and ‘Ask Me’ scheme [in partnership with Welsh Women’s Aid] and Public Health Wales Cymru Well Wales’ work around adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s) helps address this issue. Organisations like Welsh Women’s Aid and others also provide a critical role in supporting girls and women to overcome the damaging effects mental health that leads problems later in life.
Preventing adverse childhood experiences such as abuse and violence is one of my policy priorities going forward, drawing on lived experiences to shape my work including potential solutions.
We need to call out day to day misogyny and inequality where we see it and now more than ever increase female representation and leaders, so that our voices can be heard from the classroom to the boardroom.
It is for us as women to extend the ladder to the future female generations coming up behind us. And it is for us to stand up and challenge a status quo which doesn’t work to protect girls’ futures in work, at home or in terms of them facing the biggest of all threats from climate change. Throughout history there have been those with vested interests who fight against change and there have been brave women like Malala, like the Suffragettes who have stood up and been willing to challenge them. I will continue to champion a better future for women girls, our people and our planet and I’m proud of the many women who I stand with in doing this.