Prevention can be child’s play: 96% of girls involved in Pakistan programme report increased sense of confidence

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In the lead up to Valentine’s Day, while many young people are thinking about romance, and the nervous prospects of asking someone out on a date, PreventConnect, and VetoViolence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also hope to turn those young romantics’ thoughts to what it means to have a healthy, respectful relationship, as part of Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.

These organisations have collected a series of tools specifically designed for prevention practitioners working with young people and teens, which can all be found here. And, the Journal of Adolescent Health has put out a special issue dedicated to preventing and reducing teen violence.

Supporting people to value equality in their relationships can never start too early though, and can in fact start long before teens are even thinking about sex, way back when the prospect of even kissing seems yuck.

Below, Ross Edgeworth, of Right to Play, a programme that works in many parts of the world, to teach children through play about gender equality, writes about how the project operates in Pakistan. The Global Programme is supporting this project through its Impact Evaluation Fund, to conduct a full evaluation, so we can know more about how best to work with young people in their crucial learning years, so they can grow into adults who value empathy and caring, that have the skills to negotiate and conduct healthy and happy relationships.

Preventing Violence Against Women and Girls in Pakistan through Sport and Play

Founded in 2000, Right To Play International is a global non-governmental organisation that uses the transformative power of play to educate and empower children facing adversity. The organization helps one million children weekly in more than 20 countries build essential life skills and better futures, while driving lasting social change. Right To Play have developed targeted interventions that address specific challenges facing girls and women – including violence against women and girls (VAWG), gender inequality and social exclusion.

This is a core component of our work in Pakistan where it is estimated that 70–90% of women in the country experience domestic violence, including murder, rape, acid attacks and burning. Forced and child marriages are also common. Girls are marginalized from a young age, encountering barriers to entering and staying in education, to accessing safe social networks, to learning life skills and to participating in civic life.

Evidence indicates children aged 12-18 are a particularly high-risk group for being targets of violence and a critical age for prevention work. Our unique approach of using sport and structured play to bring about change is a powerful tool to empower these children and young people (boys and girls) with the skills, knowledge and opportunities necessary for positive behaviour change to reduce gender inequality and prevent VAWG.

We use games as a tool, like tag, football or netball, which have been adapted around the principle of ‘reflect, connect and apply’. Children reflect on what they have learned in the game, connect this to their wider experience, and think about how they can apply what they have learned in similar situations or to benefit others. This enables children to build confidence, resilience and leadership skills. It also develops skills in problem solving, critical and analytical thinking, and managing emotions and self-expression.

Empowering children with these fundamental life skills provides them with the means to effectively challenge deep-rooted power relations between men and women, effectively challenge gender inequality and help prevent violence against women and girls. Our previous work in Pakistan has led to 79% of girls reporting increased security and safety at school, and 96% of girls reporting increased confidence.

However, to be truly effective, we ensure the participation of men, boys and the wider community, including parents, teachers, education departments and community leaders to bring about sustained institutional change to reduce violence against women and girls. By taking this approach we will build a critical mass of people to challenge gender norms and accelerate the social change process in Pakistan through the power of sport and play.

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