Six years ago, a violent assault by my ex-boyfriend left me hospitalized for three years. I was sixteen years old. The injuries I suffered changed my life: Today, I use a light-writer to talk and a wheelchair to travel. I also use my experience to educate young people, and advocate for stronger governmental interventions and programs to prevent violence against women and girls.
The United Nations Declaration on Elimination of Violence Against Women defines violence against women as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, psychological or sexual harm or suffering to women." These acts include violence, sexual abuse and coercion, intimidation or sexual harassment.
The sad truth is that despite decades of political rhetoric, the world has not come far in ending violence and sexual coercion against women and girls. Violence against women and adolescent girls remains a major health and rights concern. In the Australian state of Victoria, where I live, violence is the number one cause of premature death and illness among women under the age of 45. Globally, one in three women will be raped, beaten or abused in her lifetime. And, in an age when HIV infections continue to rise among girls, violence or the threat of violence, often leaves young women unable to negotiate condom use, refuse sex or take other necessary steps to protect their health.
Today, there are 1.2 billion young people between 10 and 19 years old. While this generation faces unprecedented threats to their health and well-being, they also represent an opportunity to put an end to centuries of entrenched gender discrimination and violence.
Recognizing the realities of young people's lives-and particularly their need to know about their bodies and their sexual rights and responsibilities-is crucial for building the foundations of a safe passage through adolescence into adulthood. Effective, comprehensive and ongoing sexuality education based on principles of human rights and gender equality is urgently needed.
Young people need to know how to develop communication, decision-making and negotiation skills to make the transition to adulthood safely. Comprehensive sexuality education teaches young people about their bodies and how to protect themselves against unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS. And, at a time when young people begin to transition to adulthood, it teaches decision-making, fosters self-esteem and promotes self-respect, respect for others and gender equality.
I talk to young people about this because I know that we have start early when it comes to teaching respect between boys and girls. It is unacceptable that many girls are forced into their first sexual experience. I have to believe that we can change the future, that we can teach young people to see that violence against someone you love is not acceptable.
This week, governmental delegates met at the United Nations to evaluate the progress the world has made in ensuring a better, safer future for our youth. I joined other young global advocates in asking governments to take concrete action against violence and other threats to the well-being of our youth. Supporting the rights of young people to live healthy, violence-free lives is the only way to catalyze lasting and fundamental world change.