Attacks against girls attending school or seeking access to education appear to be increasing around the world despite legal protections of gender equality, the United Nations said in a report issued on Monday.
The report, posted on the website of the United Nations Human Rights Council, said attacks on schools have occurred in at least 70 countries from 2009 to 2014, and that many of the attacks were “specifically directed at girls, parents and teachers advocating for gender equality in education.”
It also said that based on United Nations data, an estimated 3,600 attacks against educational institutions, teachers and students were recorded in 2012 alone.
Although constitutional guarantees are enshrined in more than 140 countries and a global consensus prevails on the right to education for all, the report said, “attacks against girls accessing education persist and, alarmingly, appear in some countries to be occurring with increased regularity.”
The report, conducted by the Women’s Human Rights and Gender section of the Human Rights Council, was an assessment based on a compilation of research, including by other United Nations agencies and outside rights groups and academics.
It did not provide year-by-year or country-by-country data to substantiate its assertion of an increase, but highlighted some of the brazen assaults on women and girls in school that have captivated the world’s attention in recent years.
They included the Pakistani Taliban’s assault on a school in Peshawar last December that killed at least 132 uniformed schoolchildren, both boys and girls; the abduction last April of nearly 300 schoolgirls in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram, the radical Islamist insurgent group; the 2012 shooting of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl whowon a Nobel Peace Prize last year for her education activism; and numerous episodes of poisoning and acid attacks on schoolgirls in Afghanistan between 2012 and last year.
In conflict zones, the report said, women and girls have sometimes been abducted or forcibly recruited precisely because they were educated. It cited as an example the Lord’s Resistance Army, the renegade guerrilla force of Central Africa, which has captured secondary school girls in northern Uganda known for their literacy and mathematics skills, making them “valuable recruits for military communications work.”
In addition to attacks on schools, the report said, “many more girls around the world routinely experience gender-related violence and other forms of discrimination that limit or prohibit the free exercise of their right to education.”
In Central America, for example, the report said, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees has documented cases of sexual violence, threats and harassment of girls by criminal gangs, forcing them to abandon school.
The report also spoke of what it called the ripple effect from attacks on girls’ education. Not only do they affect “the lives of the girls and communities who are directly concerned,” the report said, “they also send a signal to other parents and guardians that schools are not safe places for girls.”
The report is to be submitted for use in a coming United Nations study on the role of women in peace and security since 2000, when the Security Council adopted what is considered a landmark resolution on gender equality.
The study is being led by Radhika Coomaraswamy, a Sri Lankan lawyer, rights advocate and former under secretary general who has specialized on issues concerning children and armed conflict and violence against women. It is to be released before a high-level United Nations review, scheduled for October, on progress since the Security Council resolution 15 years ago.