Promoting quality education for all.

To Improve Education For All—End Gender-Based Violence in Schools

by Noel Schroeder, 

by Noel Schroeder, Women Thrive Worldwide

Gender-based violence in schools has prevented the world from achieving quality education for all and gender equity, Millennium Development Goals 2 and 3. We must take national and global action to address this crisis and ensure that all girls and boys complete a safe, equitable, quality education.

Because of the Millennium Development Goal’s (MDG’s) focus on achieving universal primary education, more children than ever are enrolled in primary school. Gender parity – meaning girls and boys have equal enrollment in school—is closest to being achieved at that level, but total parity has not yet been reached. Gender disparities are much more pronounced at the secondary and tertiary levels—only two out of 130 countries have reached the target of gender parity at all levels of education.

Why aren’t girls in school? Many factors contribute to girls’ lack of access to quality education: gender discrimination; lack of funds and encouragement; labor; lack of safe, accessible quality schools,; and violence. Gender-based violence, in particular, is a major barrier to girls’ education and is a consequence of gender-discriminatory norms. It also often occurs in a place that should be safe for all children—school.

Nearly 250 boys and girls suffer from school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) every year, according to a recent report from UNESCO, UNGEI and EFA. SRGBV includes explicit threats or acts of physical violence, bullying, verbal or sexual harassment, non-consensual touching, sexual coercion and assault, and rape. This kind of violence in and around schools contributes to poor performance, lower enrolment, absenteeism and high dropout rates.

It’s important to note that girls and boys experience SRGBV differently; girls are at greater risk for sexual violence, harassment and exploitation. Plan International has found that “sexual harassment and violence are major factors in school dropout rates for adolescent girls, and partly explain girls’ lower enrolment rates at the secondary level.”

Simply said, by not preventing SRGBV, we are failing girls and we are preventing gender equity in education.

In a recent report, the UN Secretary-General noted that “the focus on enrolment [in MDG Goal 2] has come at the cost of educational quality and learning outcomes, which remain a significant concern, along with girls’ safety and security in the school environment” and further that “the narrow focus of [MDG] Goal 3 fails to address such critical issues as violence against women.” This recognition is an important step toward ensuring that future global goals and national policies comprehensively address SRGBV in order to ensure equitable access to quality education for all.

Want to get involved in helping end school-related gender-based violence? Here are two actions that you can take right now:

In the U.S.: Pass the International Violence Against Women Act

The International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) is a bill that would elevate U.S. engagement on efforts to prevent and respond to gender-based violence globally. The bill would ensure that addressing violence against women and girls is a priority of U.S. foreign policy and the delivery of U.S. foreign assistance.

Passage of IVAWA would further U.S. efforts to integrate gender-based violence prevention and response into all development programs, including in the education sector. This means that any education program would include a mandatory gender analysis that would assess risk factors around girls’ vulnerability to violence and that the project design would include steps to ensure girls’ safety in the context of the project. Much of the work to integrate violence prevention across sectors is already being done, but IVAWA would ensure that the work to reduce the vulnerability of schoolgirls to gender-based violence continues beyond the Obama administration. Take action for IVAWA by contacting your members of Congress and urging them to support this critical piece of legislation.

Globally: Ensure Strong Sustainable Development Goals

The next set of global development goals must address causes of inequality head on, particularly in goals on gender and education. That means addressing the link between education and violence, namely that ending SRGBV will boost enrollment for girls and boys and increase the quality of children’s learning outcomes. Targets should explicitly address violence and other factors that prevent children from learning, and policies must include comprehensive and integrated responses to eliminating those factors, including promoting gender-responsive learning environments that are free from violence and are inclusive and conducive to learning.

To make your voice heard on the importance of eliminating SRGBV and promoting quality education for all, sign the #UpForSchool petition and send a message to the UN Secretary-General that every child has the right to a quality education free from violence.

Noel Schroeder is the Manager of Education Policy at Women Thrive Worldwide.

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