"All humans are members of the same body Created from one essence"

"Human beings are members of a whole in creation of one essence and soul. If one member is afflicted with pain, other members uneasy will remain."

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Benin: Making School Safe for Girls

"In the West African country of Benin, harassment of girls in school has been commonplace. Approximately half of girls in Benin enroll in school and many end up dropping out because of the hostile environment created by continual pressure for sexual favors from teachers or fellow students. Girls who report sexual harassment often are accused of leading a teacher on and may be forced to drop out of school by parents as a result."

Wible (2004) found that 43 percent of primary and 80% of secondary students in Benin dropped out of school because of sexual abuse.

"In Benin, a small nation on the west coast of Africa, many girls opt out of school because they are sexually harassed by teachers," Neylon said. With no punishment for the men, some girls find it easier to drop out of school. About 50 percent of girls enroll in primary school and a majority of them drop out by secondary school, according to UNICEF. Only 25 percent of Benin women age 15 and older are literate. The Republic of Benin's National Assembly voted July 17 to pass the country's first comprehensive sexual harassment legislation aimed at protecting girls and women in schools, workplaces and in homes, according to the Women's Rights Initiative, a program of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Sexual violence to girls and women in schools is happening all around the world! Very few female teachers work in schools. Consequently, girls are likely to be sexually exploited by their male teachers. 

A study by Rossetti (2001, cited in Davies), found that 67 percent of students in Botswana schools had been subjected to sexual harassment by teachers. Twenty percent of these students were propositioned by their teacher for sex. In Ghana, 13.5 percent of girls in both primary and secondary schools were victims of sexual abuse at school (Brown, 2002). Amnesty International reported that 50 percent of Malawi girls experienced unwanted sexual touching by their teachers or male classmates. According to the World Bank, 8% of school girls from Cameroon were sexually abused by their teachers. A student in Uganda reported that one of her male teachers required that she wash his feet, take water to the bathroom, and when he appeared naked asked her to "help him as a man" (Action Aid).

Teachers need to be trained in sexual harassment, gender equality, and discipline procedures that are respectful of the dignity of women and men. Students must learn about sexual violence, female equality, good communication skills, boundaries and respect of gender differences. 

The schools do not operate in a vacuum! It is a reflection of society's mores and values. Each community should create their own solutions to the problem of gender violence. We have to use the mass media programs on radio, television, town posters, and the Internet. We must listen to students because they have some of the best problem solving capabilities about this issue. A holistic approach, integrating agencies, NGOs, governments, and individuals will give us the chance to get rid of sexual harassment.

We must STOP violence in schools! It is an overwhelming task which will require from us to change the cultural belief systems about patriarchy, masculine hegemony, and girls and women's values in our society.

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