Keep Girls Safe in School in the 21st Century

Vivian  Ifeoma Emesowum 

 

A safe environment is instrumental for breaking patterns of violent behaviour in the society. It allows skill building that enable girls to communicate, negotiate and develop high self esteem to personal development. A safe school is a fundamental agent for achieving growth and leadership. It establishes behaviour patterns that reduce gender based violence in wider society. To invest in achieving a safe and gender responsive schools gives a girl the opportunity to reach her full potential and thrive.

Among the barriers that stop girls from fulfilling their full potential is school-related gender based violence (SRGBV).  GBV is a social and human rights problem that is rooted in social inequalities among men and women. It is a problem that occurs in all parts of the globe, and while GBV has gained more attention over the years, it remains inadequate. Gender-based violence covers child sexual abuse, sex trafficking, sexual assault, domestic violence, early child marriage, violence in schools, female genital mutilation/cutting, forced labor and more.  It limits girls’ enrolment, undermines their participation and achievements, and increases absenteeism and dropout rates. Kidnapping of girls is becoming another angle of violence in recent times. The kidnapping of about 276 girls from government secondary school in the town of Chibok in Borno state by the Boko Haram sect in April 14, 2014 will continue to be a story to tell in the history of Nigeria

Education is a human right and a powerful tool of empowerment, and schools are important spaces in which to build respectful relationships between boys and girls. Education can equip girls with the skills and knowledge to develop livelihoods and learn about their rights, and to break cycles of poverty.  However, girls all over the world face violence and intimidation in, around, and on their way to and from school.

Girls experience violence even in the hands of fellow students, teachers, school administrators and others. They may face sexual harassment, bullying, cyber violence or may be asked for sexual favours in exchange for good grades or school fees. In some communities, the route to school may be unsafe

Many girls, particularly the most marginalized, continue to be deprived of the right to education; they are more likely to have caring responsibilities within their families and when resources are short. The failure to ensure girls are able to access their right to education has profound effects on individuals as well as wider society. For girls, lack of education has lifelong consequences, such as increasing the likelihood they will enter into situations of economic dependence in which their vulnerability to violence may be increased. For society at large, the transformative potential of girls’ education is immense for the achievement of almost all development goals.

“Improve the safety of girls at and on the way to and from school, including by establishing a safe and violence free environment by improving infrastructure such as transportation, providing separate and adequate sanitation facilities, improved lighting, playgrounds and safe environments; adopting national policies to prohibit, prevent and address violence against children, especially girls, including sexual harassment and bullying and other forms of violence, through measures such as conducting violence prevention activities in schools and communities, and establishing and enforcing penalties for violence against girls”,

“Develop policies and programmes, giving priority to formal and informal education programmes that support girls and enable them to acquire knowledge, develop self-esteem and take responsibility for their own lives, including access to a sustainable livelihood; and place special focus on programmes to educate women and men, especially parents and caregivers, on the importance of girls’ physical and mental health and well-being, including the elimination of child, early and forced marriage, violence against women and girls, female genital mutilation, child sexual exploitation, including commercial sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, rape, incest and abduction, and the elimination of discrimination against girls such as in food allocation”;

The impact of violence in schools extends far beyond the act itself. School-related violence can lead to poor attendance, lower academic results, and higher drop-out rates – not to mention the emotional and mental toll it often causes. Girls who experience violence also have higher fertility rates and lower health status. In the face of danger, everyday school life becomes fraught with fear and anxiety – rather than being the key to a fulfilling future.

 

Vivian Ifeoma Emesowum  is the Executive Director of Grassroot People and Gender Development Center (GRADE) and secretary of Lagos State Gender Advocacy Team (LASGAT.)  She is a gender advocate, health educator, researcher, citizen journalist, a writer and grassroots development practitioner with over 15 years experience promoting sustainable development at the grassroots through innovative strategies in Nigeria.

 

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