For many girls, the walk between home and school is not safe. Girls are often subjected to sexual harassment and other forms of gender based violence. For Tsegayehu from Ethiopia it is only 15 minutes to go to school. A lot can happen in that time.
Living in Zeghe town not far from the big city Bahir Dar in Ethiopia, Tsegayehu hails from a community where gender based violence (GBV) is considered normal. One day, as the girl was walking home from school together with two friends, she was commanded by a young man sitting on the road side to come over. When she went to talk to him, he made it clear that he and his friends wanted sexual relations with all three girls. Tsegayehu became angry and started aggressively arguing with him. The boys on the other hand started intimidating her that if the girls would not accept their request, they will abduct and rape them.
This was the moment that triggered a flashback in Tsegayehu. She recalled the training where she was taught how to influence and convince potential perpetrators of sexual violence and GBV through effective communication and persuasive reasoning. Applying these skills, Tsegayehu started explaining how the lives of girls and young women are critically impacted by such acts of sexual violence. She asked the boys how they would feel and react if these girls were their sisters.
The boys responded that they do not want any violence happening to their sisters and would never tolerate such a harassment. Tsegayehu challenged the boys once more - why don’t they treat every girl as their sister. This was the eye opener for the boys. Feeling guilty, they apologised to Tsegayehu and her friends. They pledged that from then on they would stand by the side of Tsegayehu and all other girls.
Tsegayehu further emphasised the responsibilities men and boys have for protecting girls from sexual violence and exploitation by influencing their peers and the community at large. The boys said they were more than willing to work together with Tsegayehu and her peers to prevent violence against women and girls. From that moment, the girls and boys have teamed up to make their community a safer place for girls. Starting with the walk to and from school.
> Starting from my engagement in the girls club in my school, I became very strong and confident. I have developed the capacity to defend myself and my peers from any violence and harassment. Now I feel well empowered, confident and motivated to continue supporting my peers so that they become assertive and able to protect themselves and others from sexual exploitation and gender based violence.
Tsegayehu has been empowered as a change agent by the Girls Advocacy Alliance (GAA) programme. She is a member of the Girls Club of her school, with support from the GAA. Since 2018, when she joined, she has been trained in basic life skills and child protection together with prevention of different forms of child abuse and exploitation; and educated on sexual and reproductive health, Gender Based Violence (GBV), and child sexual exploitation. The school population at large has been informed about child rights.