At the intersection of education and gender-based violence

This article originally appeared on G7G20.

Women and girls in Somalia face systemic gender-specific constraints and violence. It has been happening for so long that many harmful traditional practices are now considered necessary milestones in a girl’s life. 

The intersection of education and gender-based violence is incredibly relevant as schools are often the environment in which we learn the social norms and values that will guide us throughout our lives. 

Education can be a critical deterrent to violence, and violence can be a critical deterrent to education; and in order to disrupt the intergenerational cycles of violence, women and girls as well as boys and men in countries of ongoing conflict must have access to education. 

Through my organization, the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre, we have established free schools and vocational skills training centers throughout Somalia for women and girls that have been victims of sexual and gender-based violence, as well as boys and girls who have been disassociated from armed forces and groups. I have witnessed these sites of education going beyond teaching literacy and numeracy to the enrolled students, but also supporting the social and intellectual empowerment of the broader communities. 


Global leaders have made evident the importance of education in eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls over the past few decades. The Beijing platform for action (1995), the Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (1994), and the Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (2011) all explicitly state the vital role of education in the prevention of violence against women and girls, particularly related to eliminating stereotypes and capacity building. 

However, 62 million girls around the world are still not in school. Declarations and rhetoric without action do not remove the barriers to education that girls face globally; and for girls in Somalia, like in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria, violence is the key barrier to education. 

Adolescent girls living in conflict-affected countries are 90% more likely not to be in secondary school than those living elsewhere. When the G7 and G20 leaders meet to discuss pressing global issues this year, it is imperative that they take action to address the needs of the world’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people: women and girls in conflict zones. 

Education in humanitarian and crisis situations receive the least amount of overall humanitarian budgets, despite the numerous declarations by the international community endorsing education as a tool to prevent violence. 

Just after we mark the 2016 International Women’s Day, I hope the G7 and G20 leaders will not only remember the plight of women and girls in countries affected by armed conflict, but will commit to empowering them to address the structural drivers of violence that have become deeply entrenched social norms that perpetuate gender inequalities. We know education in countries affected by conflict will promote greater opportunity for peace-building and conflict mitigation. I hope this year, world leaders will not only declare the importance of education in the reduction and prevention of violence against women and girls, but will actually invest in it.

Ilwad Elman, a One Young World Ambassador, works as the Director of Programs and Development at the Elman Peace & Human Rights Centre in Somalia. The national NGO works in all areas of human rights, with Ilwad's key areas of focus being the socio-economic reintegration of children and youth disassociated from armed forces and groups, as well as supporting survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.