Tackling the Taboo: sexuality and gender transformative programmes to end child marriage. Summary Report for the Girls Not Brides 2nd Global Meeting.

Contributed by a member of the RISE Community • September 2nd, 2018

This report highlights the discussions that emerged during the meeting and gives a broad overview of recommendations.

The control and regulation of sexuality – in particular, the control of adolescent girls’ sexuality – remains a critical and often unaddressed way in which gender inequality manifests across different cultural contexts. Virtually all communities place legal, religious, political or socio-economic restrictions on:
• how sensuality, intimacy and pleasure are experienced
• how people – in particular girls – express their sexuality, including sexual orientation and gender identities
• how people engage in sexual and other intimate relationships
• how they understand and ensure their own sexual and reproductive health
• the exercise of sexual agency and bodily autonomy in general

1. For adolescent girls, these restrictions are exacerbated because age and gender are key dimensions of power inequalities, and girls usually lack access to power and are highly constrained in their ability to make decisions for themselves.

Marriage, as a social, cultural and economic institution, also plays a key role in this control of girls’ sexuality and bodily autonomy. Over the past few years, there has been a growing awareness that patriarchy and the control of sexuality matter in terms of understanding both the complex causes of and the diverse solutions to the practice of child, early and forced marriage (CEFM).

2. Girls may struggle to develop a healthy view of their sexuality in the face of prevailing beliefs that deny their sexual desires and define female sexuality as passive and vulnerable.

3. Girls’ lives and mobility are under constant scrutiny, and any deviation from the dominant gender norms is severely penalised. The sexuality and mobility of married girls, too, is often highly restricted and limited to household activities and childbearing. The Child, Early and Forced Marriage and Sexuality Programs Working Group (CSPWG)
commissioning this report acknowledges that sexuality is intrinsically linked with power dynamics and as such requires an understanding of different dimensions of inequality including age, class, caste, sexual orientation and gender identity and highlights the importance of challenging practices of CEFM with gender-transformative approaches (GTAs).

The ultimate goal of this research is to identify promising gender-transformative programming that addresses sexuality and links with reducing CEFM, including by highlighting promising gendertransformative work taking place in politically and
culturally conservative contexts. This research foregrounds successful empowerment approaches that consider the inequalities and harmful social norms that married and unmarried girls and young women disproportionately face, and
focuses on and identifies initiatives that recognise and support girls’ autonomy with skills, knowledge, and agency (including sexual agency).

Working definition of gender-transformative programming Gender Transformative Approaches (GTAs), seek ‘to reshape gender relations to be more gender equitable, largely through approaches that free individuals across the gender spectrum from the
impact of destructive gender and sexual norms’. Gender-transformative approaches encourage critical awareness of gender roles and norms;

4. Promote the position of girls and women; challenge the distribution of resources and allocation of duties between men and women; and/or address the power relationships between girls and women and others in the community, such as service providers
or traditional leaders. The ultimate aim of GTA is to achieve gender equality, empowering women, girls and gender non-conforming young people, promoting health and eliminating violence.

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