Ending Violence against Adolescent Girls in Zambian Schools

December 6, 2013

On 25 November, United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) joined the international community to take a stand against school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV). UNGEI issued a joint statement with Education International and the Global Education First Initiative, which outlined the harmful effects of SRGBV to children’s education and futures, particularly girls. It calls for governments, teachers, civil society, and communities to unite, raise awareness and promote gender equality and girls’ empowerment. In this blog post, our friends at Equality Now share their work on the ground in Zambia to bring an end to SRGBV.

By Caroline Muthoni Muriithi, Program Officer for Sexual Violence and Trafficking, Equality Now

Gender-based violence against girls in school is particularly complex. It impedes access to education and future opportunities for girls and young women to be autonomous and economically independent. Although gender-based violence can affect boys, girls are the most vulnerable.

We know that legal reform is essential to ensure that that all procedural barriers and practices that hinder girls’ access to justice are removed. The African Union also recognized this problem when drafting and adopting the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa 10 years ago in July 2003.


Article 12, which provides for the right to education, calls on member states not only to ensure that girls have access to education, but that they must protect ‘the girl child from all forms of abuse including sexual harassment in schools and other educational institutions and provide for sanctions against perpetrators of such practices ’.

In Zambia, Equality Now, together with a group of civil society organizations called Tisunge Ana Athu Akazi Coalition (TAAAC), established a project called ‘Our Girls, Our Future: Building Synergy to End Violence Against Girls Lusaka, Zambia’. The aim was to address sexual violence against girls using a ‘multi-pronged approach’:

• Targeting the government to develop guidelines to address sexual violence in schools and make schools safer for girls;
• Using the media to create awareness about sexual violence and mobilize public pressure;
• Training lawyers, prosecutors and paralegal officials to use the law to protect the rights of girls and demand protection of girls from sexual violence;
• Working with girls and boys in schools to create Safe Spaces to encourage them to discuss sexual violence and contribute their ideas on how to eliminate violence; and
• Working with communities to identify and report cases of sexual violence; and develop local networks to assist adolescent girls report cases of abuse.

Establishing Safe Space clubs was one of our key strategies. These are girl-only clubs, which aim to empower adolescent girls through awareness-raising of their rights, social networking and peer education. Adolescent girls learned about how to identify and respond to abuse, where to report cases of abuse and where to get support. They also learned about personal development and acquired the skills and knowledge necessary to achieve economic empowerment.

At the same time, boys developed plays and debates to raise awareness on sexual violence in schools. This was a key strategy to change their mindset as well as to eliminate the culture of ‘negative masculinity’, which perpetuates violence against women.

Parents were targeted in awareness-raising activities to ensure that they supported the programme and got information on where to report suspected instances of sexual violence. The school administration was sensitized about sexual violence concerns and laws that protect children.

‘Community linkage meetings’ were also initiated, where paralegal officials, local police, teachers, health practitioners and Safe Space mentors came together to create a referral system for sexual abuse in the community. This was an excellent way of creating ownership and capacity within the community to effectively address sexual violence and to hold local authorities accountable.

By placing adolescent girls at the center of this project, they were given an opportunity to voice their concerns – as well as their ideas – on addressing sexual violence. One beneficiary commented:

“I was lucky that my school had a Safe Space program and I could talk with the teacher about the abuse. She helped me report it and get support.”

1 Article 12 ( c) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa

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