Saturday, February 26, 2011

Physical Barriers to Education

“Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.” - Kofi Annan

This session was powerful, shocking, and inspiring. The session opened with the first speaker who discussed eight common barriers to education. They are as follows:
1. Traditional religious and patriarchal barriers
  • boy preference to education, early marriage for girls, abduction or forced marriage, female genital mutilation, breast ironing
2. Lack of comprehensive reproductive health education
  • children not empowered to make choices, teen pregnancies, STIs
3. Gender-based violence at the home, community, and school level
  • limits benefits of education, causes poor health and psychological problems
  • Examples: incest, bullying, coprporal punishment, sexual harassment, sexual violence and rape, cyber violence, homophobic attacks
4. Conflict and War
  • children are targeted to avenge their fathers' crimes, children soldier recruitment, rapes and mutilations
5. Poverty and unemployment
  • no school uniform, excessive school fees, no sanitary pads, child labor to augment family income
6. Absent parenting or orphanhood
  • migrant parent system, lack of supervision for school work
7. Long distances to school without transport
  • children fall victim to pedophiles who give lifts, poor road/bridge infrastructure
8. Lack of national legislation protecting children and lack of enforcement of legislation

The second panelist spoke of breast ironing and the violence against women in Cameroon. This section of the talk was the most disturbing for most everyone in attendance. I am still not sure what is more horrific to me - the notion that this practice is happening on a daily basis to little girls, or the notion that the vast majority of those in the room had never heard of this brutal ritual. Why is this practice, and others that are not widely known about not included under the FGM umbrella?

The third panelist spoke on comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) and its necessity in schools and communities. CSE teaches about relationships, rights, gender, sexual orientation - all of which provide valuable information to students so that children can 1) make informed decisions and 2) are provided with the freedom of choice.
Benefits of CSE include:
  • Respecting boundaries; The creation of strong and well-informed humans; Less violence and discrimination; A reduction in risky behaviors and thus more responsible choices; Increased knowledge; The promotion of gender equality; The involvement of actors at all levels, beginning at home
The fourth panelist spoke of turning a solution into a mobilized effort. Steps in order to make this happen include the following:
  • Raising awareness using research findings and facts
  • Engaging the media in order to spread the world
  • Engaging politicians (who will undoubtedly get involved if the media will be there)
  • Organizing a seminar or forum to bring politicians and the media together, along with civil society parties
  • Use the shock factor to make the topic compelling and real
  • Once a law is created, make sure it is enforced
  • Sensitize police and make/set example of someone who breaks the law
One final message that rang loudly toward the end of the presentation was that you can't talk about girls' problems and barriers to education without speaking to them directly and providing them with the ability and platform to have a voice.

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