Teen girl killed every 10 minutes

Compassion calls for change this International Women’s Day

This International Women’s Day, Eternity takes a look at the lives of women all around the world. 

An adolescent girl dies every ten minutes around the world due to an act of violence, according to data from the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

“Parents and intimate partners are the most commonly cited perpetrators of physical violence against adolescent girls in almost all countries,” said social researcher Claire Madden, quoting the shocking statistic at an International Women’s Day event hosted by Compassion Australia at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney on March 8.

Madden, who is a regular panellist on The Project, The Today Show and Sunrise, says people in developed countries can be “a bit immune” to the risks of harm that girls face around the world.

For example, the UNICEF data also shows that one in three girls between the ages of 13 and 15 experience bullying on a regular basis.

“We’ve got a long way to go in terms of education and understanding about women’s value.” – Claire Madden

“That’s an international statistic – that is something that young girls are facing, whether you’re in a developing country or a developed country.”

Another horrifying statistic is that about 120 million girls worldwide – more than one in ten – have experienced forced sexual acts at some point in their lives.

But the statistic that most surprised Madden was that almost half of girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide believed a husband or partner was justified in hitting or beating his wife or partner in certain circumstances.

“That’s a shocking statistic and shows that we’ve got a long way to go in terms of education and understanding about women’s value,” she says.

“While they are big statistics, every life counts.” – Claire Madden

Encouragingly, there has been some improvement in the statistics on genital mutilation.

“About 130 million women and girls alive today have experienced this. There has been a slight decline – it is happening a bit less to a younger generation – so cultural change is starting to happen.

“While they are big statistics, every life counts, and so I think platforms like International Women’s Day are critical in advocating for those who don’t have a voice themselves.”

As Christians, she says, we have an individual responsibility to remember women and girls in horrific situations, and we should use whatever platforms we have in our lives to advocate for the less fortunate.

“Also it’s really important to be aware of people in our own spheres, in our own families, in our own relationships, and to take time to listen to people’s stories and how they’re really going because there’s layers of this occurring in every society – layers of bullying – whether we’re in a developed country or a developing country. So we need to be aware of that and connect people with support and help. And if you yourself are going through it, to be brave and courageous and speak up,” she says.

“Championing women is much more complex than sharing positive quotes on Instagram.” – Anna Hutchins

“Jesus always loved and cared for the marginalised and those who were treated unfairly. And he would also challenge culture, like with the Samaritan woman at the well, so we’ve got to be people who will challenge the culture of today to speak up for and look after people in unjust situations.”

Also speaking at the International Women’s Day event, Anna Hutchins said she had met a lot of desperate women in her work as area manager for Compassion Australia.

“For too long, women have lived within a social structure where they have been placed last. They have been used and abused, without any voice to make things change,” she said.

“A few years ago, I met a woman named Tabitha. She lives deep in the grit and poverty of Manila in the Philippines with her three children. I remember the house smelt worse inside than out. She tries to earn a living collecting plastic rubbish from the streets, while juggling the care of her children. She stores up the lids, straws and bottles in her home and then exchanges them for 10c per kilogram at a plastics centre in town. She shared her testimony at a Mothers and Babies Centre I visited with Compassion. Her husband left her when she was pregnant with their third child. Used and abused and left to fend for herself.”

Hutchins said she had discovered that sponsorship through Compassion was much more than food and books and clean drinking water.

“It is about hope and dignity and promise. It’s about giving little girls safe places to play. It’s about telling young women that they have a heart and a brain and voice, and a responsibility to use it well. It’s about writing letters to encourage and inspire, and be encouraged and inspired in return. Championing women and girls is much more than a financial transaction; it’s about saying, ‘I believe in you, and I want to help you write a different story.'”

She said Tabitha was now finding joy, despite the trauma she had been through. Tabitha’s eldest child is being sponsored through Compassion and Tabitha attends the Mothers and Babies centre with her youngest.

“Championing women is much more complex than sharing positive quotes on Instagram,” she said.

“It’s hard and it’s gritty. But it’s the only pathway to change.”

“All too often we can end up adjusting to the cultural norms and we stop living lives of God-filled purpose and meaning.” – Vikki Howorth

Vikki Howorth, social justice pastor at Seaforth Baptist Church, urged the women at the event to “be the change.”

“We live in a complex and hurting world. And all too often we can end up adjusting to the cultural norms and we stop living lives of God-filled purpose and meaning,” she said.

“And it’s so easy for us to imagine that suffering and injustice are normal; to somehow believe it’s inevitable that children will die for lack of a 50-cent vaccine; to imagine that one billion hungry people is just a normal part of life on planet earth. But as a woman of faith, I reject that. It’s not natural. It’s not normal. And it’s not God’s plan for humankind.

“We are called to be the change and to love others. I believe that finding our role in social and political advocacy is an integral part of Christian discipleship, and we need to plant seeds of change in society and illuminate issues that would otherwise be ignored.”

Howorth said that before becoming a social justice pastor she had worked in the corporate public relations industry and helped many large organisations to improve their public image.

“The church has an acute and alarming public image problem. How do we turn that around?” she asked.

“God’s daughters have never been more empowered to bring about change and solutions to help women and girls all over the world.” – Vikki Howorth

“I believe that if we had greater civic and political engagement amongst Christians, advocating not for ourselves but working for those acutely affected by injustice, we could shift the public perception.

“But in the end, it’s not really a matter of PR. Rather, it’s a matter of being the people that God has called us to be.

“God’s daughters have never been more empowered to bring about change and solutions to help women and girls all over the world. We are mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers. We recognise the struggles of women in the developing world, but also recognise our position of privilege, and these two things should compel us to act.”