Addressing Sexual Violence Against Girls: The Together for Girls Partnership

Sexual violence against girls is a global human rights injustice with severe health and social consequences. The data are stark. In 2002, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 150 million girls under the age of 18 had experienced sexual violence sometime in their lives. Boys are also not immune. An estimated 73 million boys experienced some form of sexual violence. Sexual violence against children has dire public health consequences. Girls who are survivors of sexual violence are at increased biological risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. WHO evidence also suggests that sexual violence alters the life path of many girls, leading them down a road of depression, substance abuse, and high-risk behavior. In sub-Saharan Africa, girls prior to the age 18 are two to 4.5 times more likely to become infected with HIV than boys, and women constitute approximately 60 percent of those living with HIV. Societies pay a deep price because healthy, educated women are vital to the health and prosperity of countries.

In response to this global epidemic, PEPFAR joined a groundbreaking public-private partnership called Together for Girls. Under the leadership of Michele Moloney-Kitts, former Assistant U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, the partnership brings the U.S. government together with private sector organizations including the Nduna Foundation, Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD), the CDC Foundation, Grupo ABC, and four United Nations agencies, led by UNICEF and UNAIDS. Together for Girls' efforts focus on three pillars:

  • Use data, through national surveys, to inform government leaders, civil society and donors about violence against children
  • Support a plan of action and coordinated programming at the country level with interventions tailored to prevent and respond to sexual violence
  • Launch and support communications and public awareness campaigns to draw attention to the problem and motivate changes in societal and gender norms and behaviors

Together for Girls works in support of national governments, civil society and the private sector. It seeks to promote a balance between ending sexual violence through policies and programs that prevent its perpetration, and support for programs to mitigate its consequences -- for example, ensuring the perpetrators are held accountable and providing services for victims. To date, national surveys have been completed in Swaziland, Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Haiti. Results from a nationwide survey in Swaziland created a grassroots movement to change existing legislation to prevent and respond to sexual violence. In Tanzania, the rollout of the national survey has been catalytic, supporting the work of a multi-sectoral task force -- composed of government, civil society, and both bilateral and multilateral partners -- to launch a data-driven response to sexual violence against girls. On July 25, 2012, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator committed an additional $5 million to the already $1.25 million contributed to the Together for Girls Partnership. These funds will further support countries’ responses survey data by developing programs and interventions to address the underlying social determinants of sexual violence against children and better support survivors.