Learn Without Fear

Marcela's Story

Marcela, a girls' rights activist, is
a committed to making a difference
in her community.

In Marcela's community, on the outskirts of San Salvador, girls dread going to school once they become adolescents. They are often harassed by boys in their classes. Girls who become pregnant are forced to end their education for shame and fear of ridicule.

Marcela, therefore, is just short of a miracle. Living in a community that was until recently labeled the most violent in El Salvador, Marcela is still single at 18, pursuing higher education and is championing girls' rights in her community. "I was almost destined for a similar fate had I not become aware of my rights a few years ago," says Marcela recalling her first contact with Plan during a project that focused on sensitizing young people in her community against violence. "Years of awareness-raising have made a difference, but there are still too many girls in my community who face violence in schools and drop out of education," she says.

Broader Issue

The problem of girls facing violence in schools is not restricted to Marcela's community alone. The statistics show that globally between 500 million and 1.5 billion children experience violence every year, many within schools. Girls face double discrimination because of their age and their gender.

At schools, it is not just male students girls can face violence from. Incidents of sexual violence by male teachers and staff against female students are common in many parts of the world. This involves a range of aggressive behaviors and misuse of authority, including bribing students with money or the promise of better grades.

Gender-based violence in and around schools is one of the major barriers for girls in completing their education. It threatens to slow the progress in achieving universal access to primary education and gender equality. An estimated 65 million girls are still out of primary and secondary school worldwide.

There is a strong link between girls' education and their fundamental rights and freedoms. Girls who complete primary and secondary education are more likely to earn a greater income during their lifetimes, have fewer unwanted pregnancies and marry later. They are also more likely to break the cycle of generational poverty within their families and the communities around them.

Keeping Girls In School

It is therefore imperative to keep girls in education and make schools and their surrounding environments safe for girls.

Solutions involving communities, particularly boys and men, to create an environment where rights are promoted and valued are being implemented effectively in communities where Plan works. Young advocates like Marcela are using this tool in their communities. "It is only through awareness and education that we have succeeded in scaling down the level of violence in my community," she says. "Men can very much become part of the solution through change in behavior and attitudes."

Gender-based violence in and around schools is a global problem and requires policy and action by all governments. Girls like Marcela should not have to be odd miracles in their communities for simply been able to continue their education. It is not a rare privilege or a stroke of luck. It is their basic human right.

Learn more about the Child Protection Project in El Salvador