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New IRC research: pre-teen and teenage girls in humanitarian settings overwhelmingly suffer abuse by people they know

IRC calls for more humanitarian programming focused on pre-teen and teenage girls.

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  • Research indicates girls as young as 10 are experiencing high levels of violence.
  • More than half surveyed in DRC (61%) and Ethiopia (52%) reported physical, sexual, or emotional violence in the past 12 months, overwhelmingly by people they know.
  • Pre-teen and teenage girls are traditionally overlooked by humanitarian programs.
  • Programs that provide safe spaces for girls help them to build their social networks and feel more hopeful about their futures.

New research by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), in partnership with Columbia University, shows pre-teen and teenage girls living in humanitarian settings in Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Pakistan are experiencing shockingly high levels of physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of their partners or family members.

The findings show that systemic gender inequality leads girls to accept gender-based violence and have low expectations for their futures. The majority of girls in Ethiopia (71%) and DRC (81%) agreed that it is acceptable for a man to hit his wife in certain circumstances. In DRC, 95% of girls agreed that a woman should tolerate violence to keep the family together. The study revealed that young girls, some as young as ten, were more likely to report violence than older girls, highlighting the critical need to reach this age group with targeted solutions such as social and emotional interventions, counseling and peer support networks.

“This study demonstrates the shocking and widespread levels of violence pre-teen and teenage girls living in humanitarian emergencies are experiencing,” said Jodi Nelson, Senior Vice President of Policy and Practice at the IRC. “Evidence shows the majority of violence is perpetrated by those close to them, and this should have major implications for how humanitarian programs aimed at preventing and responding to violence against girls are designed.”

Girls in the study had limited access to social networks and female figures they could confide in, and many had very low hope and low expectations for their futures. Humanitarian programming typically ignores pre-teen and teenage girls, traditionally focusing on young children or women.

To address this gap, the IRC worked to improve the social, emotional and psychological wellbeing of adolescent girls, helping them build networks of support and feel more positive about themselves and their futures. These are important steps towards reducing girls’ exposure to violence and helping them recover when they do experience violence.

As a result of this work, in Ethiopia, girls were twice as likely to have friends and a trusted non-family female adult to confide in. In DRC, the number of girls who had four or more friends rose from 54% to 96%. In Pakistan, girls were significantly more likely to believe they should be given the same life opportunities as boys. In all three countries, girls felt more hopeful about their futures. Based on these findings, the IRC is calling for more programming and funding focused on pre-teen and teenage girls in humanitarian settings that recognizes this age group as distinct and responds to their unique needs.

To read the full report, click here.

For images from the study, click here.

The study

Adolescent girls face unique risks in humanitarian settings, with increased vulnerabilities due to their gender, age and environment.

To respond to the specific needs of adolescent girls in humanitarian settings and to address the gap in evidence of what works to promote the health, safety and empowerment of adolescent girls, the IRC has invested in a robust adolescent girls programming and research agenda.

As part of this effort, the IRC partnered with Columbia University over a three year period (2014–2017) to develop, implement and evaluate the Creating Opportunities through Mentoring, Parental Involvement and Safe Spaces (COMPASS) pilot program, funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID). COMPASS was implemented with refugees living in camps on the Sudan/Ethiopia border, conflict-affected communities in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and displaced populations in north-west Pakistan.

It sought to test effective strategies and interventions for protecting adolescent girls from gender based violence (GBV) in humanitarian settings and aimed to generate much needed evidence on the acceptability and impact of such interventions.

The report provides a comprehensive overview of learning from COMPASS in Ethiopia, DRC and Pakistan to inform policy and practice for adolescent girls’ programming in humanitarian settings. It concludes that there is an urgent need for tailored adolescent girls programming in humanitarian settings, and recommends the policies and investment, good practices and future research needed.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 28 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.