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Reaffirming young people's roles in addressing gender-based Violence and sexual and reproductive health and rights.


Gender-based Violence (GBV) (1) and young people. Young people have the right to be free from violence and to fully attain their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). These rights have been affirmed by various international commitments signed by Asian governments. (2)

Yet, research data show how often these rights are not met. Globally, 7% to 48% of adolescent girls and 0.2% to 32% of adolescent boys report that their first sexual activity was coerced. (3) In Southeast Asia, research also shows high numbers of sexual violence. In Thailand, for example, one in four young women had their first sexual intercourse due to pressure from their boyfriends. (4) In the Philippines, 57% of first-time sex were unplanned or non-consensual. (5) The WHO Multi-Country Study reveals that younger women, especially those aged 15-19 years, are at higher risk of experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV). (6)

In examining the issue of GBV, it is critical to recognise the diversity of young people. The definition of and perception about 'youth' is different across societies. It is influenced by the social, political, cultural and economic contexts of a society and determined by the location of an individual in terms of gender, class, caste, ethnicity, race and sexual orientation, amongst other aspects of social differentiation. (7)

GBV towards young people is not limited to young heterosexual men and women; violence towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) youth is also predominant. In the Philippines, a national fertility and sexuality study of young people revealed that 15.8% of gay and bisexual young men and 27.6% of lesbian and bisexual young women reported suicide ideation, compared with 7.5% of heterosexual young men and 18% of heterosexual young women. This high risk of suicide is related to experiences of discrimination and sexual orientation-related violence, perceived stigma and internalised homophobia. (8) Since laws and norms criminalise and stigmatise non-heterosexual relationships, young people who have different gender identities and sexual orientations have added difficulty reporting experiences of GBV.

Recognising diversity also means looking at experiences of young women living with disabilities. While there is dearth in data in the region on GBV and young women with disabilities, studies of women with disabilities show that they tend to be more vulnerable to experience sexual violence, domestic violence, exploitation in the workplace, as well as violations of sexual and reproductive rights. For example, a study in Orissa, India shows that all women and girls with disabilities have experienced pysical abuse, 25% of women with intellectual disabilities have been raped, while 6% have been forcibly sterilised. (9) The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises "that women and girls with disabilities are often at greater risk, both within and outside the home of violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation." (10)

GBV and SRHR linkages. Unwanted pregnancy is just one of the tangible consequences of sexual coercion and physical violence in intimate relationships. IPV is also linked to several SRHR issues, such as unsafe abortion, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, maternal morbidity and mortality and psychological trauma. (11) This is concerning, given that more than 15 million girls aged 15 to 19 give birth yearly as a result of early marriage and early pregnancy. Further, currently, 50% of all new people living with HIV are young people between the ages of 15-24, of which over 60% are girls. (12)

A UNICEF study of nine countries, including Cambodia, found that girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence than peers who marry later. (13) They have lower power in negotiating on their sexual and reproductive rights, such as deciding on whether to engage in sex, use contraceptives, continue pregnancy and have children. The inability to claim their rights put young women at higher risk of STIs, including HIV. (3) They are also vulnerable to suffering and dying from injuries, infections and disabilities due to pregnancy and childbirth. (14) For young women, all of these are potentially very limiting to their life choices. (11) These can severely curtail educational and employment opportunities and have long-term adverse impact on their own and their children's quality of life. (12) Aside from reproductive health vulnerability, in relationships with violence, young women are also not able to exercise their sexual rights, including to sexual pleasure.

Violence towards LGBTIQ youth, such as rape towards gay boys could also result to psychological trauma, STIs and HIV. In addition, 'corrective' rape among lesbian young women could result in additional complications of unwanted pregnancy and increased chances of unsafe abortion or maternal mortality and morbidity.

Empowering young women + Engaging young men = Cutting the cycle of violence. The causality of violence is complex, many of which are social, political and structural. Women and girls are often vulnerable to GBV because of social norms and beliefs that reinforce women and girls' subordinate status in many societies. (15)

Some Southeast Asian countries have social norms and beliefs that are integrated with strong religious values, which have an impact on laws, policies and programmes. For example, the Indonesian Marriage Law states that the required minimum age for women is 16 years old, younger than the required minimum age for men of 19 years old. (16) This clearly shows society's low positioning of women, wherein women are considered ready to marry and give birth at a young age, despite the costs of early marriage and early childbearing on women and their children. (17) This is compounded by the absence of a perspective that girls and women have the right to education, better employment and bodily integrity.

The belief that violence is acceptable on some grounds still persists in Southeast Asian society. Studies reveal that while exposure to violence may not necessarily lead to violent behaviour, it can shape young people's attitudes and beliefs of the acceptability of violence. (18) Programmes for young people that challenge gender roles and power relations, promote young women's empowerment, respect for young women's equal rights, respect for the rights of LGBTIQ persons, and emphasise the unacceptability of violence can have a powerful impact in stopping the cycle of violence. Young people, regardless of sex, gender identity and sexual orientation, can work together to make a world without violence.

From international commitments to national implementation. Considering that international commitments related to youth GBV have been existing for more than 10-15 years, national level implementation has been slow and uneven. While most of the countries in the region have domestic violence laws, majority of these are blind to the needs and realities of young people, and youth-friendly reporting mechanisms hardly exist. For example, in Indonesia, the law regulates domestic violence only within legal marriage, whereas in practice, there are many religious marriages commonly practiced by young people with no legal-base. The law does not cover these, nor other dating violence cases.

Lack of access to quality, scientific and non-judgmental information, and to youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services and supplies, including access to contraception, emergency contraception and safe abortion, are big concerns. In many countries in Southeast Asia, abortion is illegal or highly restrictive, or even if allowed, there are many barriers to young women's ability to access it, including parental or spousal consent.

Urgent call for meaningful youth participation. While it is important to highlight and address the issue of GBV and SRHR among young people, it is also extremely critical that young people be consulted and involved in measures to address this urgent issue. As the group that directly experiences the problem, they comprehend it the most and would best understand what strategies would work.

What does 'meaningful youth participation' actually mean? Here are some characteristics: it mobilises other young people; focuses on youth input; provides spaces for youth to lead processes; builds and strengthens capacity of young people; has clearly defined roles for young people involved; is fully inclusive and accessible to all; has transparent processes; is visible and recognised by other stakeholders; includes an implementation and monitoring mechanism; takes national contexts into account and ensures local implementation of international decisions; and is connected to policy and impact, and to everyday realities. (19) Moreover, participation should involve and give spaces for all types of youth, including youth living in rural area, youth with HIV, youth with disabilities, LGBTIQ youth and many more. Furthermore, young people should be involved not just in project activities, but as decision-makers sitting within project steering committees and in the governing structure, not just for reasons relating to rights of participation, but also to improve the quality of policies and services for youth. (20) Additionally, youth-adult partnership is critical, and effective models need to be studied and implemented.

Towards shaping the next development frameworks. As specific time-bound goals for ICPD and the MDGs are reached in 2014 and 2015, there is a need to reaffirm the role of young people, including youth-led organisations, as equal partners in development. Young people need to be seen as keypoints to cutting the cycle of violence and achieving SRHR. They have to be meaningfully involved in policy making, programme planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluating at all levels. This means empowerment of young women, including providing them with rights-based education, as well as fulfilling the needs of young men and working with them to change gender and power relations. Finally, there is an urgent need for development frameworks that embrace youth diversity, are less biased against young people, are more equal and right on target.


(1) While this article discusses intimate partner violence mainly due to space constraints, other forms of GBV experienced by young people that needs to be acknowledged as important, include sexual abuse by family members and strangers, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, female genital-mutilation and gender violence in school. All these kinds of GBV among youth vary across cultures, countries and regions.

(2) These include the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action, the Beijing Platform of Action, and the Millennium Declaration and Development Goals.

(3) ARROW. (2010). Understanding the critical linkages between gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health and rights: Fulfilling commitments towards MDG+15. Malaysia: ARROW & UNFPA.

(4) Gubhaju, B. (2002). Adolescent Reproductive Health in Asia. Asia-Pacific Population Journal, 17(4), 98-119.

(5) University f the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI). (2002). 2002 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study (YAFS) III. Philippines: UPPI. Cited in Hain, 2009, Too Young, Too Curious, which is cited in ARROWs for Change (AFC) Vol. 17 No. 2 Concept Note.

(6) Garcia-Moreno; et. al. (2005). WHO Multi-country Study on Women's Health and Domestic Violence against Women Initial Results on Prevalence, Health Outcomes and Women's Responses. Switzerland: WHO. Cited in AFC Vol. 17 No. 2 Concept Note.

(7) Angelina, M. (2010). The ABC Approach Unpacked: Assumptions versus Lived Reality of Youth and Safe Sex in Sub-Saharan Africa." Best Student Essays of 2009/2010. Netherlands: Institute f Social Studies.

(8) Manalastas, E. (2009). Dyke Dialogues/Rainboy Exchange Series, Filipino LGB Youth and Suicide Risk Findings from a National Survey. The Philippines: University of the Philippines Diliman. Cited in EnGendeRights, 2009, Shadow Letter to the Committee on the Rights f the Child: Supplementary information on the Philippines scheduled for review by the Committee on the Rights of the Child on 15 September;-which is cited in ARROWs for Change Vol. 17 No. 2 Concept Note.

(9) United Nations. (2006). Fact Sheet: Some Facts about Persons with Disabilities. Cited in Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities f the Department f Economic and Social Affairs; United Nations Population Fund & Wellesley Centers for Women. (2008). Disability Rights, Gender, and Development: A Resource Tool for Action.

(10) UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Preamble, q).

(11) International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) and Population Council. (2009). Violence within marriage among young people in Tamil Nadu, Youth in India: Situation and needs 2006--2007. Policy Brief No. 12. Mumbai: IIPS. Cited in AFC Vol. 17 No 2 Concept Note.

(12) The Working Group on Girls. (2006). The right to protection: The girl child and gender-based violence. www.girlsrights. org/fact_sheets_files/Violence.pdf

(13) UNICEF (2005). Early marriage:A harmful traditional practice. UNICEF: New York. Citedin ICRW (2006). Child marriage and domestic violence. Washington, DC, USA: ICRW.

(14) UN Women Virtual Knowledge Centre to End Violence against Women and Girls. Adolescents. en/articles/685-adolescents.html

(15) CARE. (2010). Bringing an end to gender-based violence. USA.

(16) UNICEF Adolescent and Youth: The Big Picture.

(17) Population Reference Bureau and Advocates for Youth. Youth and marriage: Trends and challenges. USA: National Academies Press.

(18) Domestic Violence & Incest Resource Centre Victoria (DVIRC). (2005). Young People and Domestic Violence Fact sheet. Australia: DVIRC.

(19) Open Society Foundation and British Council. (2011). Meaningful Participation by Young People in International Decision-making: Principles, Practice and Standards for the Future. The London Symposium Report.

(20) UNFPA and IPPF. (2004). Addressing the Reproductive Health Needs and Rights of Young People since ICPD: The contribution of UNFPA and IPPF: Synthesis Report.

By Farhanah and Kurnia Wijiastuti, Yayasan Jurnal Perempuan (Women's Journal Foundation). Email:
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Title Annotation:SPOTLIGHT
Author:Wijiastuti, Farhanah; Wijiastuti, Kurnia
Publication:Arrows For Change
Date:Sep 1, 2011
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