Despite the established relationship between girls' education and several social development outcomes, gender disparities in education remain particularly concerning. Among the many obstacles that still hinder girls’ access to quality education, sexual violence against girls in schools (SVAGS) is one of the most worrying but also one that has received the least attention in light of recent efforts to increase girls’ attendance in school. This article explores the interface between the seemingly solid Ghanaian legal and policy framework to protect children in educational institutions and the high incidence of SVAGS in such institutions. Its purpose is twofold: to identify the major barriers to fighting SVAGS in Awaso, a rural Ghanaian town, and to highlight strategies for lifting those barriers. Using classroom observation, focus group discussions and interviews with students, teachers, parents, NGO staff and government representatives, it explains how lack of knowledge, lack of financial resources, deep-set values and popular perceptions of masculinity, femininity and violence against women and girls contribute to SVAGS.

Key Take Away Points

- Like in many places around the globe, sexual violence against girls in schools (SVAGS) is known to happen in Awaso, Ghana, and is recognized as a problem by community members.

- Reasons behind SVAGS and the difficulty to eradicate it can be grouped into the following four categories: lack of knowledge; lack of financial resources; deep-set values; and popular perceptions of masculinity, femininity and violence against women and girls.

- Strategies for lifting barriers include training, sensitization and empowerment; allocating adequate funds for prevention and protection; and commitment towards finding solutions that are adapted to the local context.

Author Biography

Geneviève Proulx completed her Masters’ degree in International Development and Globalization at the University of Ottawa in 2012. Her research interests include gender equality, access to quality education for marginalized populations, and child protection from all forms of violence. She has worked on these issues with government departments and non-governmental organizations in Canada and abroad, and has developed policy guidelines for programming on safety and security in schools. She is currently developing a multi-stakeholder program that will help ensure marginalized children are supported in their educational development and have equal chances of succeeding in school. She maintains a keen interest in the issue of sexual violence against girls in schools.

A native of Chile, Andrea Martinez is a full professor cross-appointed in Women’s Studies and International Development with a PhD in Sociology. She was the first director of the Institute of Women’s Studies (2000-2006) and the founding director of the School of International Development and Global Studies (2008-2011) at the University of Ottawa. Her research work explores the effects of globalization on the deteriorating living conditions of women in “Third” and “Fourth World” countries. She has published numerous articles and book chapters on the struggle against poverty, violence and other forms of deprivation of marginalized women (Afro descendent and aboriginal women, female refugees, teenage mothers, or victims of international trafficking) and, more recently, on job and health insecurity of female workers in the textile industry in Morocco. In the summer of 2012, in the wake of the events of the Arab Spring, she co-organized the first edition of the Summer School on “Gender equality in the reforms and revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East” held in Rabat, Morocco. Her involvement in the field of sexual and reproductive rights has also led her to forge links with university partners, aboriginal women’s groups and NGOs in Latin America (especially in Chile, Argentina, Costa Rica, Peru and Brazil) to promote equity and social justice. She has been able to consolidate this partnership since her election as the first coordinator (2001-2004) of COLAM’s Inter-American Training Network on Women and Development, a university consortium that jointly offers academic programs and professional training fostering an intercultural perspective on feminist topics of continental interest.


Note: The authors would like to thank the reviewers for their helpful and insightful recommendations.