Girls Cannot Learn When Facing Violence in School
We have just celebrated the International Day of the Girl on October 11 and there is a lot to celebrate for the Global Partnership.
October 14, 2013 by Koli Banik, USAID
8 minutes read
A girl smiles shyly in her classroom. Zambia. Credit: GPE/Dan Petrescu

More data and much more work is needed if we truly want to get ahead on the issue of gender-based violence in schools

We have just celebrated the International Day of the Girl on October 11 and there is a lot to celebrate for the Global Partnership:

  • GPE partners have helped enroll approximately 10 million girls (2002-2011) [1]
  • 72% of all girls in GPE developing partner countries complete primary school (2011)
  • 77% of all girls in GPE developing partner countries transition from primary school to lower secondary (2011)
  • 40% of girls complete lower secondary school in GPE developing partner countries (2011)

While we are happy and proud about this progress, we still have a long road ahead of us to ensure that all girls are entering and completing school in a safe and enabling learning environment.

The stark reality is that many girls are facing dangerous situations in their homes, on their way to school, and in or around schools.

“School-related gender-based violence,” as it is called is defined as violence in and around school which adversely impacts enrollment, attendance, retention, and learning.  It is estimated that at least 246 million boys and girls are impacted by school related gender-based violence.  Girls are particularly vulnerable as many face sexual harassment, rape, coercion, exploitation, and discrimination from teachers, staff, and peers.  The risk of school-related violence and exploitation often deters parents from sending their daughters to school and is one of the main reasons why girls drop out of school.

Gender violence remains invisible

According to Fanny Gazagne, Education Advisor at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and GPE’s co-chair for a technical reference group on girls’ education and gender equality, “these acts of gender violence in schools — whether sexual, psychological or physical– still remain largely invisible and unpunished, making it difficult to identify, recognize, and support victims through a country’s education system.”  Due to the sensitive nature of the topic and cultural taboo issues, there is little evidenced-based research on the nature and incidence of this kind of violence.  A few country surveys provide data on the urgency of the issue.

  • Tanzania found that almost one in four girls who experienced sexual violence reported the incident while traveling to or from school. Nearly 17% of the girls reported that at least one incident occurred at school or on school grounds.
  • Benin found that 43% of female primary students and 80% of female secondary students knew of a fellow girl student who left school due to gender-based violence.
  • In South Africa one third of the men who raped girls under the age of 15 were teachers.

More countries take action

More and more countries are conducting research on these issues and starting to devise programs and legislation to address them. Ghana and Afghanistan use GPE grant funding to develop programs for safe schools and to combat gender violence.  Afghanistan has enacted a law to protect young girls and women from violence. The government in Ghana plans to develop policies and procedures to create gender friendly schools.  In francophone West Africa, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs has created a special working group to address school-related gender-based violence by commissioning and analyzing data on gender violence and its consequences in order to develop recommendations to fight against the impunity of perpetrators and to strengthen preventive measures and treatment of victims. 

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs has commissioned a report, ‘Gender violence in schools in Sub-Saharan Francophone Africa: Understanding the impact on girls’ education to fight better’ and produced a short film about a related project in Côte d’Ivoire.  The Côte d’Ivoire project focuses on prevention, treatment of victims, and penalties for perpetrators — from the national to community level in 300 primary schools and surrounding communities. The program establishes mechanisms for victim reporting and early detection, referral and psychosocial, legal and medical services, and community mobilization for education.

Programs like these need to be evaluated for their effectiveness and then scaled up so we know what works and in which context.  We also need to design and scale-up programs which strengthen the capacity of education stakeholders on gender and girls’ education, address their lack of knowledge and data on school-related and gender-based violence and focus on the lack of coordination at the national and regional levels to prevent more victims.  As a global community we still have a lot more to do before we truly celebrate the International Day of the Girl.


United Republic of Tanzania, “Violence against children in Tanzania: Findings from a national survey 2009, United Nations Children’s Fund, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, August 2011.

UNICEF et al 2010. Too often in silence: a report on school-based violence in Western and Central Africa; Sodjinou, E. Houeto-Tomety, A. and Tomety, S. (2009). Etude sur les violences contre les enfants en milieu scolaire au Benin. Cotonou, Benin, Ministere des Enseignements Maternel et Primaire (MEMP), UNICEF, Laboratoire d’Ingenierie de formation et d’assistance en Development local.

Plan International, 2013: A girls’ right to learn without fear: working to end gender-based violence at school, Canada.

Born to high risk: violence against girls in Africa”. African Child Policy Forum, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2006.

  • [1] This figure is based on the increase in enrollment between two consecutive school years since a country joined the partnership and doesn’t take into account countries which joined in 2012 and 2013)

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The issue of insecurity is anchor on so many variables in which rape is one. Hunger and killings of people that is attributed to acts of banditry and terrorism are on the increase without respite from the government.

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