From left: Charlotte Fomengia, Janett Forte and Manda Brefo spent the summer researching school curricula aimed to teach youth about preventing violence against women and girls. Their work will help Beyond Borders‘ Rethinking Power team launch its VAWG prevention work in classrooms across Haiti.

As over 150 non-governmental coalitions and 40 women’s groups prepare to reintroduce the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) to Congress in the near future, Beyond Borders’ Rethinking Power (RP) team is making some serious preparations of its own. Last month marked the team’s third anniversary working to end violence against women and girls (VAWG) in Haiti. To celebrate, they’re treading new waters by expanding into Haiti’s classrooms.

Since the beginning, the pastors, journalists, health workers and other community activists in RP’s network have identified the need to engage educators, too. They needed a school curriculum that stopped cycles of violence long before adulthood.

From that need, an unconventional internship was born. Beyond Borders put out a request for an individual willing to spearhead the hunt for the best VAWG-related curricula around the world.

What came back was a curricula search dream team: Manda Brefo, a University of Rochester senior who has done extensive domestic violence research cutting across 10 countries; Charlotte Fomengia, a community counselor who managed a 24/7 crisis hotline providing crisis counseling and social service resources to sexual assault survivors, and Janett Forte, a clinical social worker who has nearly three decades of experience in combatting violence against women and girls.

Together, these three women spent the summer uncovering what the world has to offer in school programs aimed to teach youth how to stop domestic violence.

All three are drawn to this work through personal experience, including the propensity for both men and women alike to blame female survivors of violence as well as the habitual silence around these issues, especially with children.

“I saw a lot of violence growing up, but no one wanted to speak about it, and many women thought if they did they’d jeopardize and split up their family,” says Brefo. “I feel like a lot of the women didn’t realize that there were resources to help them.”

Fomengia, who has witnessed a horrific mutilation practice that involves flattening girls’ breasts, added,

“we women & girls–we need voices, and we need change.”

From left: Research intern Charlotte Fomengia and Rethinking Power Program Director Sara Seibert share a laugh while reviewing the research.

Yesterday, as the women presented their extensive findings to the RP team, they contributed to that change. Now the Haitian team can now hit the ground running in developing their own curriculum, which is just one more building block meant to support the growing network of leaders working to end VAWG. The team even has plans to work with Haiti’s Ministry of Education to incorporate this curriculum in the country’s national standards.

“Every institution has something they can contribute to the movement to end violence against women and girls,” says Sara Siebert, the RP Program Director. “When things are done together, in a strategic way, there is a real opportunity for the community to shift–pastors provide premarital counseling and preach about equality, respect and nonviolence in the church, journalists change how they’re reporting on issues, health workers start to ask their patients questions about their safety in their relationships and know how to refer if a woman needs help. When you add a school curricula into that, and institutions and informal community networks are working simultaneously, and there is a real potential for impact.”

If IVAWA is passed, it will make preventing VAWG a permanent U.S. foreign policy priority. If you liked this piece, please consider signing this petition to support the Act.

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