Since 1990, as part of the drive for universal primary
education, there has been a considerable international effort to get more girls
into school. Girls constitute two-thirds of all out-of-school children (UNESCO
1998). The need to develop specific strategies to address the problem of girls'
under-enrolment, as opposed to merely seeking to increase the total number of
school places available, has spawned a number of studies around girls'
education. However, most of this research has concentrated on the economic,
social and cultural barriers to girls' schooling, in other words barriers
external to the school (e.g. Colclough et al 1998, King and Hill 1993, Brock and
Cammish 1997). It is only recently that studies examining the gendered structure
of schooling have been carried out (Anderson-Levitt 1998, Kutnick 1998, Stephens
1998, Gordon 1993; see also Odaja and Heneveld 1995). In these, some attention
has been given to the role that informal school practices and teachers'
attitudes play in perpetuating sex differentiation and discouraging girls (and
sometimes boys) from attending. It is now recognised that the way in which
schooling is organised and delivered sends subtle but powerful daily messages to
pupils about the gender roles they can expect to play in adult life. In the
majority of cases, these messages underscore the authority and superiority of
males and implicitly endorse gender-differentiated roles which reinforce girls'
negative self-perceptions and limit their expectations. Although governments and
donors have expressed concern over the low academic achievement of girls in many
countries, they have been slow to acknowledge the link between this low
achievement, the school culture, and low self-esteem and expectations of women
Within these studies, one aspect of the reality of school life
for girls which may affect both their attendance and their achievement has been
almost totally ignored. That is the existence of a school culture which
tolerates abusive behaviour and violence towards girls. Very little is known
about why and under what circumstances abuse in schools takes place and
internationally accessible studies which seek to address this issue are few:
examples are Gordon (1993), Gouws (1997), Hallam (1994). Given the commitments
made by governments world wide under the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the
Child, it is crucial that the reality behind this abuse be exposed and its