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Worldwide Attacks Against Schoolgirls Are on the Rise

Attacks against girls who seek an education are increasing around the world, according to a United Nations report released Monday.

The report, conducted by the Women's Human Rights and Gender section of the Human Rights Council, shows attacks on schools have happened in at least 70 countries between 2009 and 2014 and that many of the attacks were "directed at girls, parents and teachers advocating for gender equality in education. Despite legal protections for gender equality, around 3,600 attacks against schools, students, and teachers were recorded in just the year 2012 alone.

The study mentions Boko Haram's kidnapping of almost 300 Nigerian schoolgirls, the shooting of Pakistani activist Malala Yousafsai, acid attacks on schoolgirls in Afghanistan, and the Taliban's attack on the Peshawar, Pakistan, school in December that killed at least 132 schoolchildren. The fact that these attacks disproportionately affect girls is not a coincidence.

"The Boko Haram, whose name means 'Western education is a sin' in Hausa, has been responsible for the abduction of hundreds of girls in northeast Nigeria as well as threats and attacks against teachers and school infrastructures," the report states. "Members of Taliban groups operating in Afghanistan and in Pakistan have also openly declared their opposition to the education of girls and have used violent attacks against girls, their families and teachers as a means of asserting their control over local communities. In Mali, girls have been targeted for sexual and other forms of violence in schools for failing to adhere to strict dress requirements imposed by armed groups."

The report goes on to explain, "Within these contexts, the educational rights of girls and women are often targeted due to the fact that they represent a challenge to existing gender and age-based systems of oppression."

There is also is a strong link between a lack of education for girls and high child marriage and early pregnancy rates for those girls. The study warns that girls not having access to education, or being pulled out early "may result in additional human rights violations such as child and forced marriage, domestic violence, early pregnancy, exposure to other harmful practices, trafficking and sexual and labour exploitation."

In Pakistan and Nigeria, where violence against girls is ongoing, girls suffer myriad other human rights violations. Nearly one in four girls in Pakistan and more than one in three girls in Nigeria is married before age 18. Only 61 percent of Pakistani girls and 58 percent of girls in Nigeria aged 15 to 24 are literate. One in ten girls in Pakistan and more than one in four girls in Nigeria are mothers by age 18.

The report lists a number of recommendations to curb violence against girls. The authors urge countries to "take immediate measures to ensure that all girls can effectively access high quality education, including human rights and sexuality education, at all times, even during and after situations of crisis or conflict. ... Concrete, practical measures must be designed to improve school accessibility, quality and safety and to ensure that girls have real access to education on a basis of equality with boys."

Media Resources: Associated Press 2/9/2015; The New York Times 2/9/2015; UN Human Rights Council 2/9/2015; UNICEF data

© Feminist Majority Foundation, publisher of Ms. magazine

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