* By Cynthia Kuhumba – Akili Dada Volunteer

Finally she has a chance to go to school and get an education like she has always wanted.

Education for her is the only to break the vicious poverty that has plagued her family. It’s her first day in school and excitement is written all over her face. She gets ready for school and within no time she is out of the house. As she walks to school, a huge smile plastered on her face, she imagines how different her life will be from then on. Her happy thoughts are suddenly cut short by voices of strange men catcalling her. She panics and hastens her speed to get away from them then she notices one of them is following her.

She is now on the verge of running, her heart beating wildly with no attempt of looking back. She notices the school gate and is relieved, her excitement is back on. As she enters the school she can’t help but marvel at the sight of the school, though the structures are a bit shabby, it’s still a school and that’s all that matters to her. She rushes to class and sits as she waits for her teacher to come and as she settles in her new class, she notices that there are few girls in her class compared to boys and with that reality, she realizes that she is very lucky. Soon her lessons begin, though she is late to join school, she tries her best to participate in class. She makes a few friends who help her get familiar with the school but something makes her feel really uncomfortable.

Her friends warned her to never go to the washrooms by herself reason being, there have been cases of rape by unknown men who find their way to the school compound. She is dumbfounded and wonders how that is even possible and besides aren’t school supposed to be a safe place? The warning really bothered her and was on her mind throughout the reminder of her day. It’s now 4:00 o’clock time to go home. She really enjoyed her first day of school even though she had a hard time trying to keep up with the rest since she was far behind. She gathered her books ready to leave and as she approaches the door, her teacher asks her to remain behind for a few minutes. She thinks to herself that maybe the teacher had noticed her struggle earlier on and wanted to offer some assistance but unfortunately this is not the case. Her teacher was trying to take advantage of the situation by asking for transactional sex for him to favor her during the fast approaching exams. She was speechless. She burst out of the room running unable to comprehend what had just happened. She runs all the way home. Still shaken, she sits thinking of the day’s events from the catcalling, unsafe space in school and sexual harassment from her teacher and wonders if all that is worth it if she was to get an education.

Despite education being a public good and a fundamental human right, millions of children, most of them being girls are denied an education by the daily realities of poverty, violence and discrimination and to deny anyone their human rights, is to change their very humanity. Persistent stereotypes and barriers keep girls from equal access to education. School Gender Based Violence (SGBV) is alive and not only through physical abuse, but also through social and sometimes moral abuse that pushes girls to leave school.

In conflict areas, it is even more difficult to access education because schools are often closed down due to constant wars and those that remain open are always in fear of being attacked. Girls are abducted and are made child brides while the boys are recruited into the militia groups and for this reason parents would rather their kids stay at home than going to school and them being left with uncertainties of whether their children will return home safe.

The task of making education safe weighs on not only the government but also on individuals and the community as a whole.