Today is Day 15 of our of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.
The science is clear – childhood experiences shape adult outcomes, including long-term health, cognitive development, academic achievement, and one’s ability to be gainfully and safely employed. Our experiences as children shape our lives as adults, affecting our ability to develop as healthy and productive individuals, families, communities and nations. One could say (with firm evidence as back up) that there is no sustainable development without sincere and sustained commitment to child development.
In the same way, our notions about what it means to be a female or male are imprinted in our brains early in development. Formative experiences – such as how our parents behave with one another and what caretaking and economic roles our mothers and fathers assume—influence our “normative gender expectations”.
If we are serious about change – really breaking through cycles of poverty and gender inequality– we must start early. Dr. James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate in Economics, has demonstrated that investments in young children produce much greater dividends than those made later in life. These physiological and economic arguments reinforce an even stronger moral imperative.
Evidence shows that violence against and exploitation of children and women – which often occur together and share common risk factors – can be prevented. Children who witness violence are significantly more at risk of health problems, anxiety disorders, poor school performance and violent behavior. Women who experience violence are less likely to earn a living and less able to care for their children.
Those who face violence face significant threats to their survival and well-being, as well as profound life cycle risks that have an impact on human, social and economic development. And the cycle of violence, exploitation, and abuse repeats itself, compromising the lives of children, women and families, and hindering the growth and productivity of communities. The cycle also contributes to abuse as a normative gender expectation for males and females alike. Until this cycle is broken—intentionally, strategically and early on, poverty, inequality and inhumanity will persist.
In the same way that public health efforts have prevented and reduced pregnancy-related complications, infant mortality, infectious diseases and illnesses, so can the factors that contribute to violent and abusive responses – attitudes, behavior and social, economic, political and cultural conditions –be changed.
In a few days, the U.S. Government will release an Action Plan on Children in Adversity, the first-ever government-wide strategic guidance for international assistance for children. The goal is to take strategic action to ensure that children grow up within protective family care and free from deprivation, exploitation and danger.
The Action Plan identifies programs that work and that can be taken to scale. It demonstrates that we can measure impact and affect change. It builds on existing efforts that allow children to not only survive, but thrive – honoring children’s rights to strong beginnings, protective and loving family care, and protection from violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect. These objectives are central to U.S. development and diplomatic efforts and, as a result of the Action Plan, will be integrated into our international assistance initiatives.
We know what needs to be done. Let’s get to it!