I am often asked why we should talk about violence when we are focusing on girls’ education programmes. The answer is easy.
Imagine being a 12 year old girl for a moment. Imagine what it would be like if you were feeling afraid when you walk to school. Imagine being beaten for making a mistake when you answered a question incorrectly in class. Imagine not feeling safe enough to go to the toilet. Imagine being told by your teacher that you are not as good as the boys. Imagine being bullied by your classmates during the breaks. Imagine being told that your education is not important because you are going to get married in a few years anyway. Imagine being this girl.
Unfortunately this is a daily reality for millions of girls across the world. In fact it is estimated that one billion children experience some form of either physical, emotional or sexual violence every year. Much of this violence is gendered. Girls are more likely to experience sexual violence and harassment, while boys are more likely to experience physical violence.
Schools are routinely pointed out as areas that are deemed unsafe by children themselves, and especially by girls. Corporal punishment, bullying and sexual harassment are prevalent in schools where DFID’s Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC) projects work. This has a detrimental impact on girls’ ability to attend school, stay in school and learn.
In fact research has shown that children who even just witness violence have lower attendance in school and higher rates of dropout. Children who experience violence are also more likely to have lower concentration levels and poorer school performance.
Several of the GEC’s projects found exactly this in their midline evaluations. Where improvements in safety such as shorter routes to school had been made, girls were more likely to have better school attendance rates and learning scores. Similar progress was observed when girls’ perceptions of safety in and around school had improved.
If we want to get girls into schools and learning, addressing issues of violence and gender inequality should therefore be important priorities. This is why 16 Days of Activism, the annual international campaign that raises awareness of gender based violence, is so important.
However, we should not just focus on schools simply being potentially unsafe for girls and boys, but rather also look at the opportunities they provide. Schools can play an important role in the formation of children’s attitudes towards gender equality. While at school, children not only learn to read and write, they also learn a hidden curriculum of social norms around what is acceptable and what is not. For example, when teachers perpetuate common stereotypes by saying boys are better at maths than girls, girls can internalise these feelings and perform less well.
It is therefore crucial that schools and teachers are role models for children to follow and that they guide students to become aware of gender dynamics at play around them. Schools should be safe for both girls and boys, teaching methods should encourage equality among all children, enable children to treat each other well and ensure that their different abilities are supported and encouraged. Schools can therefore lead the way by educating a new generation of young people who never use violence and respect themselves and each other, regardless of gender.
Talking about violence when we are focusing on girls’ education programmes therefore makes perfect sense.
Ann Kangas is a Senior Technical Specialist at Social Development Direct, one of the alliance partners implementing the Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC) Fund Manager. Ann leads the work on child protection across the GEC portfolio. She has previously worked with UNICEF and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in various roles relating to gender based violence and child protection. She holds a BA in International Relations and Politics from University of Essex and an MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies.
Photo credits (top to bottom): Anseye pou Ayiti ;