Esther Ajayi- Lowo
Yes, denying education to a girl child is actually a form of violence against women and girls. I know you may wonder why, so let me break it all down. I define education as the ladder to freedom and liberty. It is any form of instruction for enlightenment of the mind that is provided in both formal and informal institutions. While education is important for every child regardless of gender, I focus on education for the girl-child because its denial easily predisposes the girl child to violence. Also, while I acknowledging that there are diverse forms of education that a girl child benefit from to be free from violence, this short write up is on how the denial of school education and sexuality education to a girl child is tantamount to violence in every sense. You are still wondering about the connection between denial of education to a girl and violence against a girl? Here is how:
First, let us talk about denying a girl child of school education. When you deny a girl child the opportunity of attending a formal school, you are violently seizing her future from her. Inadvertently, in Nigeria, most girls that never attended any school end up in the country’s statistics of child brides, street kids, hawkers on highways, children-raising kids, and victims of sexual and other violent acts. For instance, in Northern Nigeria where the percentage of gild child enrolment in school is the lowest is also where the statistics for child marriage and all its attendant consequences for diseases and mortality is highest. Several buckets of similar examples abound in other parts of Nigeria as well. So, remember that when you deny formal education to a girl child, you are violating her rights and her person, as well as opening up avenue for all other opportunistic violence against women that thrive on lack of education.
Second, denying a gild child sexuality education is also a form of sexual and reproductive violence. The education that a gild child needs is not only the reading and writing skills but also comprehensive information about her body and how to protect it from violence and violation. Sexuality education has been misunderstood as that which teaches girls to have sex, but this is totally wrong. It is rather a form of education that exposes people (girls especially, since this is my focus here) about taking charge of their sexual and reproductive lives. As defined by the Sexuality Education and Information Council of the United States (SEICUS), sexuality education is “a lifelong process of acquiring information and forming attitudes, beliefs, and values. It encompasses sexual development, sexual and reproductive health, interpersonal relationships, affection, intimacy, body image, and gender roles.” It is a form of education that empowers one to make informed decisions about their sex, sexuality, and relationships.
Against the backdrop of this understanding of sexuality education, what happens when a gild child is denied this type of education at home, in school, in religious institutions, and in the society at large? A denial of sexuality education to a gild child is a denial of her control over her sexuality, a ticket to her becoming sexually subservient and vulnerable to sexual violence and abuse of all kinds. Without sexuality education, a girl only ‘learns’ about her body and sexuality via the misguided information from peers, porn, and the internet; she ‘learn about sex, sexuality, and reproduction through personal, physical, and emotional experience of sexual violence and reproductive disasters. We rage about the rising statistics of teenage pregnancies, STDs/HIV/AIDS among young people, risky sexual behaviors, violent relationships, rape culture, sexual violence, and all kinds of reproductive mortality including maternal and infant. Yet, we would not have girls acquire the education needed to make informed sexual and reproductive decisions. This is not only a form of hypocrisy but an act of deliberate violence against the body, mind, soul, and spirit of a girl child.
To reiterate, all forms of education is a form of empowerment and enlightenment and denying a gild child of such is a direct and indirect form of violence. The violent impacts of denying education to a girl also has rippled effects for her when she matures to womanhood, for her children, and for her generation. Educating a girl child, therefore is the starting point of eliminating all forms of violence against women. Let all stakeholders including parents, teachers, religious leaders, and policy makers who are interested in ending violence take the important step of providing all forms of education for the girl child.
Sexuality Education and Information Council of the United States (SEICUS). (n.d). Comprehensive sexuality education. Retrieved from http://www.siecus.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.ViewPage&pageId=514
Esther Ajayi-Lowo is a feminist activist and scholar. She is a Ph.D. student and Teaching Assistant at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas. Esther had worked for over a decade with government and nongovernmental organizations on women’s rights and development issues in Nigeria prior to leaving for grad school in the United States; she also remains committed to feminist activism by working as a think-thank and program initiator for several nonprofit organizations and communities in Nigeria.