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Breaking the silence on gender-based violence in schools

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©UNICEF/NYHQ2008-1125/Nesbitt
A 15-year-old girl writes answers on the chalkboard in her classroom in Senegal. Girls around the world suffer multiple forms of violence in and out of school settings.

In the run-up to the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Girls' Education Initiative and the global conference entitled 'E4 - Engendering Empowerment: Education and Equality' to be held in Dakar, Senegal from 17 to 20 May, UNICEF has been featuring a series on girls' education and gender equality. The following report is part of that series.

By Pi James

NEW YORK, USA, 17 May 2010 For millions of children worldwide, physical and emotional abuse and gender-based violence are a harsh daily reality.

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On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Girls' Education Initiative (UNGEI), UNICEF Radio moderator Amy Costello spoke with Judith Bruce, Senior Associate and Policy Analyst with the Population Council, and Keyti, a Senegalese rap star, about violence against girls and the role of education.

'Girls don't feel safe'

According to Ms. Bruce, who works with the Population Council's Poverty, Gender and Youth programme, violence targeted at girls is prevalent in communities and schools around the world. Among its many repercussions, violence can have a devastating impact on girls' education.

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© AURA/2010
AURA, or the United Artists for African Rap network, is a group of young West African musicians who work together to promote children's rights. Rap star Keyti is in the back row, second from the right.

"Even if [violence] doesn't happen, the threat of it is what keeps girls from school in the first place," Ms. Bruce said, adding that the fear of violence limits girls' participation and frequently undermines their learning. She cited a recent Population Council study based in Zambia, in which two-thirds of girls reported that someone they knew was being abused by a male family member at home, and over a third reported that they knew of girls who had been abused by teachers.

"We have more than 80 per cent of girls saying that they know that girls are forced to do things they don't want to do for money," Ms. Bruce said. She noted that the ages of rape victims at least, in cases of rape that are reported are getting younger.

"Girls don't feel safe," she said. "They don't feel safe at home, they don't feel safe on the way to school and they don't feel safe in school."

'Enough is enough'

Keyti, a renowned rap musician and member of AURA a network of young West African rap stars who have united to promote children's rights said that growing up in Senegal, he encountered many social differences between girls and boys. However, he said, this is changing "little by little."

"As a Senegalese boy, I didn't [have] any obligation to participate in the house chores," Keyti said, adding that he recalled his sisters and other girls "always cleaning the houses, always making food, always washing the clothes. As a boy, all I had to do was go outside and play football.

"But more and more, I get the feeling that it's changing in Senegal right now," he said. "Even the government is helping."

Keyti argued that people and communities as a whole need to break the silence on violence. "Enough is enough," he said. "If we really want Africa to be developed, we've got to take care of our problems ... and face things as they are."


 

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6 May 2010:  For the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Girls' Education Initiative, UNICEF Radio moderator Amy Costello speaks with two guests about violence against girls and the role of education.

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