The education system did a good job of covering his tracks. In passing her judgement in this public interest litigation case, Judge Mumbi Ngugi had referred to this as “shuffling of paedophiles” by the Teachers’ Service Commission.

The Judge found the deputy head teacher had committed acts amounting to sexual assault against the girls and indeed had conducted himself inappropriately as a teacher in respect to what was expected of him. She also found the state and state organs in the education sector liable that their employee had violated the rights of children placed under his care. She questioned the lack of policies to discipline a person in a position of power who had abused his powers. She declared that the girls’ rights to education and health had been violated and that “all schools and school teachers are at all times under legal capacity of a guardian, whose duty is to protect all students”. To put it simply, if you are a teacher you cannot engage students in sexual relations, touch them or use suggestive language and claim that you didn’t mean any harm. Children, especially girls are likely to suffer in silence if faced by sexual advances, inducements or threats by someone in authority.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence Campaign. This year the 16 Days of Activism global campaign focuses on the relationship between militarism and the right to education in a number of settings. In Africa, the GBV Prevention Network members have been participating in the campaign since 2004. Through a Campaign on making education safe for girls, the Network puts a spotlight on the structural discrimination of women and girls throughout the education system right from the home, community, and the school setting including government policy that impacts girls experience at school. 

In spite of sustained and continuous activism, violence against women and girls is still endemic. A 2014 UNICEF report reveals that sexual violence is not uncommon in the lives of many girls. Data from 40 low and middle income countries shows that up to 10% of adolescent girls aged 15–19 reported incidences of forced sexual intercourse or other sexual acts in the previous year. There is also evidence that high numbers of young women report that their first sexual experience was coerced.

This is a reflection of deeper systemic structures that perpetuate discrimination and violence against women and girls.  

According to the United Nations Girls Education Initiative, school related gender based violence poses serious detrimental effects on children’s well-being and their ability to learn to their full potential.

There are places where girls are forced to stay at home rather than face their perpetrator in class every day!

We may still not know the full scale and impact of gender based violence in schools but we can do something to prevent it. A part of cracking this riddle open is in breaking the silence that is part of a conspiracy that brushes off every day misogyny in the education system. No matter how you look at it, it is deeply rooted in unequal power and gender relations, gendered social norms and discriminatory practices.

Education is critical in transforming the lives of young women and girls yet gender based violence in our schools undermine this aspiration. We need to be conscious that nothing can ever restore the children’s innocence lost. It leaves scars that are unlikely to heal.  

This blog post is published as part of a 16 Days of Activism online campaign by the Gender Based Violence Prevention Network coordinated by Raising Voices. Join the campaign via twitter using the hashtag #16Days, tweet @GBVNet or join the conversation on the GBV Facebook page.