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Let’s Talk! Discussion on 'A Girl’s Right to Learn without Fear'

A vibrant panel discussion on the issue of school-related gender-based violence, which was held at UNICEF's New York headquarters.

NEW YORK, 12 March 2013 - Last week, UNGEI joined partners, Plan International, UNICEF (Education) and 10x10 to organize a side event to the 57th session of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW) entitled: A Girl’s Right to Learn without Fear: Working to End Gender-Based Violence at School. Held at the UNICEF House in New York on 5 March, participants included members of international agencies, governments, NGOs and permanent missions to the United Nations.

UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director, Geeta Rao Gupta provided the welcoming remarks and stated, “Surprisingly, given the impact of violence on girls, teachers, families and communities, school-related gender-based violence is often unremarked upon and taken for granted. At the same time, we know that education can give girls particular resources to challenge gender-based violence.”

The Minister of Culture and Sport Finland, Mr Paavo Erkki Arhinmäki, was invited to provide reflections on school-related gender-based violence along with the response of the Government of Finland. He noted, “Education and gender equality are intertwined and that education is a critical path to gender equality and women’s empowerment. We must create safe learning environments free from violence.” In Finland, study courses have been developed on preventing violence and learning materials to support education for young people on sexual rights and safety skills. 

Around the world, there is an estimated 66 million girls who are denied their right to education. To speak more in-depth on this issue, a dynamic panel followed the opening remarks, moderated by Sarah Hendriks, the Global Gender Advisor of Plan International. The discussion touched upon findings from Plan’s global report, A Girl’s Right to Learn without Fear: Working to End Gender-Based Violence at School which was also launched at the event. The panelists included: Marcela, a member from the Because I am a Girl Youth Speakers Bureau; Rosemary McCarney, President and CEO of Plan Canada; Seodi White, Lawyer and National Coordinator of Women in Law in Southern Africa; and Robert Prouty, Lead Education Specialist, World Bank.

Rosemary McCarney highlighted the seriousness of gender-based violence (GBV). She said, “The biggest barrier to getting girls in school - and staying in school - is gender-based violence. Governments need to be called upon to develop action plans to address violence, especially school-related violence.”

“What’s astonishing in the education sector is how much violence is not hidden because it is not seen as wrong,” said Robert Prouty.  He added, “Addressing the opportunities we have of looking at why violence has become pervasive and accepted is the first step… The idea of a progressive realization of rights is also not acceptable. We need to figure out how to get the rights now instead of putting it off. Sooner or later is not good enough.”

In a similar vein, Seodi White added, “We need to create a sense of urgency and emergency.” Collaboration between different sectors is critical.  “We are still working separately. When you examine the laws in various countries, their [respective] education acts, for example, do not integrate school-related gender-based violence. Therefore, if we are going to talk about processes, if this issue is not integrated in the education act, it will be difficult to have accountability,” she said.  

Marcela, the young girl ambassador from El Salvador, moved the audience with personal reflections from her country. She noted that in El Salvador, although girls are taught to be aware of various dangers in terms of sexual and physical violence, boys are never taught to respect girls. Girls need to know their rights.  Marcela said, “We need to change the way we are saying things, because those things can create stereotypes and the cycle will never end.”

When asked what she thinks governments, schools and teachers can do to bring an end to violence in schools, she answered, “All parts, including the community, need to work together and prioritize the topic of a girls’ right to learn without fear. There is a need to invest in girls because a girl educated is not going to suffer from violence, a girl educated can change the world.”

The panel discussion was followed by a special advance preview of a chapter from 10x10’s new film, Girl Rising, which was introduced by its Executive Director and Producer, Holly Gordon, and highlighted issues of girls’ education around the globe.

The event was Livestreamed and we invite you to view it in its entirety by clicking here


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