Around the world children are returning to or starting school for the first time. For many families the beginning of the school year is a time of hope and excitement. Children are looking forward to meeting new friends, learning and trying new activities. What we so often forget amongst the bustle of new school supplies and first day pictures is that millions of children all around the world go without an education.
2013 estimates indicate that 59 million children did not have access to an elementary school education, over half of these children are girls. Lack of education has long term detrimental effects on everything from the ability to find and secure work to child and maternal health. A good education is critical to the development of children and to the sustainable development of societies. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said; “There is no tool more effective for development than the education of girls.”
There are various reasons that girls do not attend school; gender based violence is one of the biggest and it can have severe consequences for the girls and their communities. School girls are subjected to horrifying levels of violence in and around schools. Indian girls who are raped while walking long distances to school, New York City students who are punished for reporting sexual assaults that occur at school, South African school girls who are coerced into sexual relationships with male teachers, and Malawian school girls who are bullied are examples of violence that occurs in and around schools. Violence in the community such as child marriages, and violence associated with conflict also keep girls out of school.
The consequences of gender based violence in schools are far reaching. Direct consequences of school related violence include; physical and psychological injury, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Sexual harassment and violence are major factors in school dropout for girls which exponentially increases the detrimental consequences.
When girls do not complete school they are more likely to marry early and have more children, which in turn causes maternal and child health problems. Already faced with societal norms which mean women earn less than men, girls who do not complete school have substantially lower lifetime earning capacity compared with their peers. Uneducated women who are not able to be economically independent are more vulnerable to violence. Victims of gender based violence who are dependent on their partners are often unable to leave abusive relationships as they wouldn’t not be able to support themselves and their children.
Societies which do not have educated women and girls are likely to suffer from poverty and a lack of development. Conversely, when all children have access to a high quality education it breaks cycles of poverty and disease, equips children and adults with the tools they need to adopt healthy lifestyles, protect themselves from infectious diseases, take active roles in society and contribute to the well-being of their communities.
The right to education has been recognized as a fundamental human right which is essential to the exercise of all other human rights. Governments across the globe need to make a concentrated effort to protect the rights of female students and take concrete steps to end gender based violence in and around schools.
Amelia Shindelar is working towards her Master of Public Policy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Amelia studies the intersections of health, human rights and development. She is a summer 2016 intern for Global Rights for Women.