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Attacks against girls’ education on the increase

09 February 2015

Attacks against girls accessing education persist and, alarmingly, appear to be occurring with increasingly regularity in some countries, states a new study released by the UN Human Rights Office.

The report, “Attacks Against Girls Accessing Education,” is an assessment of attacks on schools and what this had meant for girls’ education. The report, by the Women’s Human Rights and Gender (WRG) section, reviewed data on attacks on educational institutions and on girls who attempt to access these institutions. According to the United Nation’s data, an estimated 3,600 separate attacks against educational institutions, teachers, and students were recorded in 2012 alone. In addition, attacks on schools have taken place in at least 70 different countries between 2009 and 2014. Many of these attacks were aimed at girls, parents and teachers for advocating gender equality through education, the report stated.

“Attacks on girls’ education has a ripple effect,” the report states. “Not only do they impact on the lives of the girls and communities who are directly concerned, they also send a signal to parents and guardians that schools are not safe places for girls. In turn, this impacts the incidence of child marriage, as some parents may view marriage as a way of protecting their daughters.”

Veronica Birga, who heads the WRG section, said the report was a chance to start addressing some of the factors that seem to be fuelling the assault on girls’ education. Although more research is needed into the causes of these attacks, they all are very much grounded in stereotypical views about women and girls’ role in societies and efforts to maintain existing power hierarchies and structures.  Gender-based discrimination and norms, harmful gender stereotypes about the role of women and girls in society.

Through the several recommendations made in the report, the hope is that, “as the international community commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Programme of Action and defines future gender equality priorities and goals, adequate attention is paid to the need to protect the gains of the past, particularly in the area of girls’ education,” she said.  “This requires an approach which is framed in human rights and that looks at how violence and discrimination affect girls in a continuum, so that root causes can be effectively addressed,” 
The report makes a number of recommendations including adopting long term, multi-dimensional approaches to engage all stakeholders in discussions about equality and nondiscrimination; developing concrete, practical measures to improve school accessibility, quality and safety for girls, including revision of school curricula and learning material to ensure they are not discriminatory toward girls; and providing reparations where violations of girls’ and women’s rights to education have occurred as a result of violent attacks. These could include increasing availability and access to livelihood skills programmes.

Making sure girls remain in school is crucial, Birga said. Education is a powerful tool to ensure that women are aware of their rights and know how to claim them. It gives women more negotiating power in all aspects of their life. It can protect women from harmful practices and other forms of violence. Education is also crucial for women’s participation in economic, social and political life and necessary to break the cycle of discrimination and exclusion, she said.

“We know that education is a multiplier right. The impact [of girls being kept out of education] can be devastating, setting back communities for decades,” Birga said.

9 February 2015