Education: A Fundamental Human Right

All children deserve the right to safely attend school.

Every child also deserves the right to live free from violence.

Education is a fundamental human right and a necessary pathway to ending extreme poverty. Equitable, quality education has an immense power to transform the lives of not only individuals, but also families, communities, and nations. 


However, across the world, students report experiencing unacceptably high rates of violence in and around school settings. School-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) is a prevalent form of violence that occurs in and around school settings, driven by harmful gender norms and stereotypes.


Even when gender norms are not the primary cause of violence, they undergird the social dynamics that impact who perpetrates and experiences different forms of violence. 

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COVID-19 and Education

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted access to schools. Around the world, 1.5 billion children are impacted by school closures. For many students, this means class is canceled. For others, it means logging on to virtual lessons. For more information and resources about the changing world of education visit our COVID-19 page

Barriers to Education

Education of both girls and boys plays a key role in human, social, and economic development. Education is a vital part of achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and creating a more equitable world. However, globally, girls graduate at a significantly lower rate than boys. 


According to the UNGEI report, “Missed Opportunities: The High Cost of Educating Girls,” globally nine in ten girls across complete their primary education, but only three in four complete their lower secondary education. In low-income countries, despite progress over the last two decades, less than two-thirds of girls complete their primary education and only one in three complete lower secondary school.

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) estimates that 130 million girls worldwide remain out of school and face barriers to education, including:

– Cultural norms and practices

– Early/forced marriage 


Additional barriers faced by both girls and boys include:

– Distance to school

– Living in a conflict-affected country

– Households that depend on their labor or income

School-related gender-based violence 

“Here is the truth. None of the SDGs, not a single one, can be accomplished unless we educate all girls.”

- Malala Yousfazi, Nobel Prize Laureate and Education Activist

Violence is a Barrier to Attending School

To better understand how SRGBV impacts school attendance, USAID’s Higher Education Support Network (HESN) supported AidData and Together for Girls to conduct secondary analyses of the Violence Against Children & Youth Surveys (VACS) data to identify the prevalence of SRGBV, as well as details on violence perpetration, victimization risk, and post violence behaviors in selected countries. 


One finding of the project was that many students who report experiencing violence subsequently miss school, reinforcing the existing understanding that SRGBV constitutes a serious barrier to education for all students, and exacerbates existing gender inequalities in educational access and attainment. Lower attendance is a key driver of school drop-out, and overall missing school can lead to lower academic performance and decreased graduation rates.

School Absenteeism as a Result of Sexual Violence

Among children who report experiencing sexual violence, % of students who missed school due to the violence
  • Female
  • Male

The analyses found that globally, girls missed school due to sexual violence at a higher rate than boys.


In Malawi for example, 22% of girls who report experiencing sexual violence reported missing school due to the violence, whereas 4% of boys reported missing school. 

School Absenteeism as a Result of Physical Violence by Classmates

Among students who report experiencing physical violence by classmates, % of students who missed school due to violence
  • Female
  • Male

In every country in the analyses except Malawi, females who experience classmate-perpetrated violence were slightly more likely than males to miss school as a result of the violence.


However in Malawi, 12% of boys who experienced sexual violence reported missing school due to the violence, and 10% of girls reported missing school due to the violence. 

School Absenteeism as a Result of Physical Violence by Teachers

Among students who report experiencing physical violence by teachers, % who missed school due to the violence
  • Female
  • Male

Our research found that rates of school absenteeism as a result of corporal punishment among the four sub-Saharan African countries varied from 1 in 10 to 1 in 4.


In Honduras, corporal punishment has been banned since at least 1996 and only 1% or less of both boys and girls reported experiencing corporal punishment by a teacher. However, over half of the girls and over 1/3 of boys reported missing school and recent reports by UNICEF reinforce that severe forms of corporal punishment are still implemented in the country.

Schools Can Prevent Violence Against Children

Although schools are one of many settings in which violence against children and adolescents take place, schools also offer the unique and powerful potential to serve as protective spaces for children, acting as an important arena for broader social change to end violence both in and out of the classroom. There are proven school-based interventions that can reduce violence and address the social norms that drive SRGBV.  


The INSPIRE framework is an evidence-based resource for preventing and responding to violence against children and adolescents. The framework presents seven strategies to help communities focus on prevention programs and services with the greatest potential to reduce violence against children, including through education and school settings.

The Safe to Learn initiative used the INSPIRE framework to develop a Call to Action, which sets out in high-level terms what needs to happen to end violence in schools. Safe to Learn is dedicated to ending violence in and through schools.


The Call to Action, already signed by 15 countries, seeks to unlock the multiple wins of ending violence in schools, improving learning outcomes, better leveraging investments in education, and raising awareness and change attitudes towards violence against children.

Prevention is Possible

Prevention is possible. Violence prevention and response should be integrated into education policy and programming to ensure safe schools for all students, and give them access to quality education – a fundamental human right.


To learn more and to access data, resources, and tools about SRGBV, visit

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