Written By: Tim Gehring, IJM Policy Manager, Government Relations
"Last Friday, Malala Yousafzaithe was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy for universal girls’ education. Brilliant move. Educating girls is one of the most effective poverty alleviation strategies. But unless protection from sexual violence against girls in schools is addressed the potential gains of universal girls education is at risk of being severely weakened.
Educating girls is one of the most effective poverty alleviation strategies.
Universal girls’ education has long been the darling of the development community. USAID spends an annual average of $1 billion on promoting equal access to education. Universal girls’ education was one of the original 8 Millennium Development Goals. And for good reason. Each additional year of education increases a girl’s future potential earnings by 15-25%.  If India enrolled 1% more girls in secondary school, their GDP would rise by $5.5 billion. And it has a “multiplier effect” on other factors contributing to poverty such as reducing infant mortality rates, reducing the likelihood of girls contracting HIV and increasing agricultural yields.
But, of course, this multiplier effect can only take place if girls actually attend school. According to the World Health Organization, school is one of the most places for sexual violence against children to take place. An estimated 246 million girls and boys experience some kind of violence at school. In Kenya, 1 out of every 4 school-aged girls had been coerced into sex. In South Africa, teachers are responsible for 32% of disclosed child rapes under the age of 15. A 2012 report by Doctors without Borders, found that a quarter of all Guatemalan girls reported they had been victims of sexual violence within the past twelve months.
Sexual assault at school, on the way to school or in the home is one of the leading contributorsto girls no longer attending school. A study by Plan International in Ghana found that 100% of girls who had experienced sexual assault no longer enjoyed attending school, and another study in Senegal revealed direct links between the rape of children and performace in school.
This issue hasn’t been totally ignored. In 2003, USAID implemented a 5-year program entitled Safe Schools in Ghana, Ethiopia, Malawi and Jamaica. The UN Girls Education Initiatiive recently announced a Global Partners’ Working Group on School-Related Gender-Based Violence. However, few of this projects actually work to enable the public justice system to protect girls from being sexually assaulted in schools or in the home. Indeed, the United States and the World Bank – two of the world’s largest aid and development funders – devote just a little more than a single percentage point of their resources to justice system efforts combatting common violence in the developing world.
As the Nobel Committee recognized, the world will be a better place if all girls’ have access to education. But projects promoting girls’ education must also focus on increasing the capacity of their public justice system to protect girls from violence. Despite all our best efforts to educate girls, if they aren’t protected from violence in schools, it is all for naught. We must ensure that schools are safe environments of learning – free from everyday violence that erodes traditional poverty alleviation projects.
 CICE Hiroshima University, "Sexual Abuse of School Age Children: Evidence from Kenya." Journal of International Cooperation in Education, Vol. 12 No. 1 (2009) pp. 177 ~192