16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, is an international campaign hosted by the United Nations to call communities, organizations, and governments to do their part to put an end to gender-based violence. Over the last 15 years, communities rallied under different themes to fight for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.
For the last day of the 16 Days campaign, we would like to share the work and thoughts of Chi-Chi Undie, our Technical Director and Senior Associate, who has spent a large portion of her career dedicated to researching sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), centering the experiences of adolescents, and determining how programs based in research can impact the lives of adolescents and young people for the better. Her work on SGBV has led to the passage of a resolution to incorporate partner violence screening in sexual and reproductive health screenings and HIV and AIDS services throughout East, Central, and Southern Africa.
(This interview has been edited for ease of reading.)
Can you describe your approach to research focused on sexual violence against children (SVAC)?
I would describe my approach as child-centered and child-driven. I approach it very much as a learner, trying to enter into the world of children. I try and make certain the research is as child friendly as possible, and I use what aids we can to ensure we do not contribute to children’s suffering.
Based on your research what factors contribute to increased SVAC?
Silence from the community. There are different forms of silence. Silence can be silence in their family space or in their homes. The silence from parents in the home, sometimes survivors themselves, is one of the key things that contribute to not being able to speak about such events as children. We think that once a conversation begins, once somebody dares to begin a conversation, it gives rise to many other conversations.
But we must do this kind of communication at different levels because perpetrators count on children not daring to tell anybody because [children have] been trained not to talk about this issue.
Parents don’t want to talk about sexual violence, because they are seeing it as shame. There’s silence everywhere you turn, and the perpetrators count on that.
Once you begin to have conversations about sexual violence, it really constrains the space in which perpetrators can flourish.
What measures are required to decrease SVAC at the international, national, and local levels?
I think it’s still in some ways about communicating because I can come up with solutions such as ‘Oh, we need a multi-sectoral approach,’ or ‘We need to make sure all the sectors come together to handle this issue,’ but organizations have already started this approach.
We haven’t really broken this issue down to communicate with stakeholders in different sectors to talk to each other. To understand that we need to talk to each other about what our goals should be and what resources we have, in order to work together.
How do organizations and governments create services that target the interpersonal violence, mental health challenges, and economic issues that teenage girls who are experiencing pregnancy face?
There are a lot of issues and each one of these issues mentioned is very complex. Each one is intimidating. It makes sense that experts in these issues are at the same table as researchers in teenage pregnancy prevention. There will always be links between each of these issues to one another. It’s really important to maintain a multicentric mindset. Always ask ourselves that question and create seats at the table for adolescents to address this issue.
How do organizations provide support to parents to decrease barriers and challenge stigmas that create obstacles to accessing psychological services?
I think there are all kinds of ways. Organizations providing support to different populations, let’s say to teenage boys, for instance, or adolescents in general, really need to support the child first in the short term.
We are making services available to child survivors specifically, but we found that the parents are overwhelmed and distressed by the fact that they just found out their child has experienced some form of violence. Parents need to talk to someone about the guilt they feel.
We have a lot of work and it’s really a matter of tweaking existing services to embrace conditions and combinations that are shaping teenagers’ lives. In this qualitative study conducted in Homa Bay County, Kenya, to examine the experience of teenage pregnancy, there was some work that made sense because we didn’t have the services operating. Physicians cannot solve these problems on their own. Their parents can be an extra person that can be a resource to children who are survivors of sexual violence.