The brutal truth

The many challenges about being a girl at school

Hands on the lap of a victim of sexual abuse.
10 December 2018

No investment has a higher return for a country than ensuring that girls are in school and learning. And yet from belittling to beatings, school life for some girls is a world away from a safe and inclusive learning environment. Here, as part of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, a 16 year old Kenyan schoolgirl opens up about some of the many challenges about being a girl at school.

“At school we have both male and female teachers. Most female teachers favour boys. When both a boy and a girl have both done a mistake, the boy is forgiven and the girl is punished. Imagine… even some female teachers, whom you are expecting to be on your side or to help you! Other female teachers are so nice and willing to help us. They make such a difference to every single day.

But there are those others that just don’t value girls like boys. They make us feel like girls are made for working. They make us feel like boys are everything and they can go far …but girls, no way. They think the things girls are meant to do is just … give birth, clean the house and do house chores – not get an education. Education, some feel, is just for boys, that only boys can go on for as long as they want to be educated.

Some of the punishments at school are really very bad too. Punishments can be caning, you can be beaten up, or given a punishment which you can’t do. Like, you are told to take a razor and go and cut a tree until it falls down. Or they can tell you, when it is very hot, to just take your blanket and go and sleep on the field. This makes me feel very bad, it makes me feel like I don’t want to go to that school. It makes me feel like I am just nothing when they do such things to me. I feel like I’m just nobody.

Sexual abuse almost happened to me at school, but I think I was very tough [laughs]. There was a teacher, he came to me and he was telling me, ‘you know, you are beautiful’. I was like: ‘I know. Everything you have just told me my mum has also told me. Even if you are a man - she is a woman, she told me, and I am proud of that. And if you think you want to use me, no, you can’t use me. Because I know my value. I know my aims and I know where I want to go’.

But I’m also happy because there are organisations that are really helping girls, they help girls a lot. They make them feel comfortable. There is one called Girls Space. You can just go there and express anything you feel and they are there for you. You can just talk to anybody. As long as it is your need and you are a girl, they can talk to you. They only help girls there. Anything you need, you can just ask them. They are really willing to help you.

Before them I had no-one to talk to. I was just alone. Maybe your parent doesn’t understand you because they always feel that the teacher is always right. They think if the teacher is doing that its because they know [best], the parent will understand [the teacher’s actions]. The teachers also tell your parent all sorts of lies and your parent will say you are wrong and your teacher is right.

And so, if I find it difficult in this school, I’ll just train myself to learn. Even if teachers don’t want to teach me, I’ll get out and teach myself more, there are many libraries, I can learn.

Even though it will be hard, I can do it.”

*UNICEF in Eastern and Southern Africa works through the Ministries of Education on policy, and in District and local levels across the region to train Head Teachers and both male and female teachers in gender equality and inclusive, quality education. Although much progress has been made, there is more work to be done to combat the challenges of cultural norms related to girls’ education and inclusiveness.