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Gender-based violence– starting in primary school » Case Studies in Domestic Violence

Gender-based violence– starting in primary school

October 23rd, 2008 by jessliu@stanford.edu Leave a reply »

I decided to examine violence in primary schools to see how violence against girls and violence in general starts early. Caning / corporal punishment and this idea of violence as acceptable punishment is perpetuated by schools, a state-sponsored, reverence-inspiring institution. Apparently, it’s a British practice that came along with the British colonization of Tanzania after WWII… and has since been outlawed in the UK but…

In Tanzania, corporal punishment is permitted in schools, per article 60 of the Tanzanian Education Act (1978). This article states that corporal punishment is regulated by the National Corporal Punishment Regulations (1979), which is overseen by the Ministry of Education (interestingly). In 2000, in response to significant levels of opposition to caning children in schools, government guidelines reduced the number of permissible strokes from 6 to 4. According to law, only the heads of schools are allowed to administer punishment, but in practice, teachers are still caning their students for infractions.

Both boys and girls both get caned. One girl in primary school said that teachers punish them for tardiness, wearing a dirty uniform, or having not paid school fees. The last one gets me plenty riled up, because inability to pay school fees is no fault of the child him/herself and only creates greater inequality between richer and poorer students. (though this may not be as big of a problem in primary school anymore since primary school education is free for all students).

However, the treatment of boys and girls in the classroom, and one study by UNICEF found that the attitudes of teachers toward their male and female students were drastically different. Not to say anything about the more difficult path female students face to get to school (e.g. families expecting girls to stay at home and work with mothers until they got married; families believing it’s a safer investment to send a boy to school than a girl in case she gets pregnant and has to drop out)—but once in school, girls face overt discrimination. Teachers identified girls as being shyer, and overall, they felt that girls were less intelligent than boys. The fact that this would even be an issue was a shock to me. How can teachers who are supposed to be empowering the next generation, themselves, be so bigoted?

Beliefs played out into practice, students are responsible for classroom cleaning/maintenance, and girls in select primary schools were found to spend more time on cleaning/labor than boys. Some of the reasons girls have given on why they skip school is to avoid punishment, illness transmission between students, not enough school supplies, poverty, and long distance from schools. However, some reasons girls gave on why they drop out of school were to “escape being used as cheap labor and to [avoid] being sexually abused by teachers.”

Sexual abuse happens here in the U.S. as well, but the legal system here is better able to prosecute perpetrators, whereas in Tanzania, prosecution is slow or non-existent. Girls and women have a tougher time “outing” their attacker because there isn’t as much faith in the system to protect them. It’s hopeful to hear that there are groups such as the Mkombozi Centre for Street Children who are addressing the issue of child abuse and child-directed violence. Although they work mostly in Arusha (northern Tanzania), there are other organizations I’ve read about in passing who work with girls’ and women’s rights. It’s been a labyrinth to navigate, but next week I hope to have a better picture of the type of support women and girls receive against gender-based violence.


Osaki, K.M. & Agu, A. (1999):
Classroom Interaction with Gender and Rights Perspective. A Case Study of Selected
Primary Schools in Tanzania. Report of a Study commissioned by UNICEF, Dar es Salaam. Also



  1. afmurray@stanford.edu says:

    I appreciated your adding a perspective on primary school and young children to a blog on “domestic violence” and particularly drawing in other kinds of violence (caning, spanking, corporal punishment) to the discussion. As we will be discussing next week, violence is the strategy of those in power to maintain the status quo; we see it used at all levels and in many ways throughout society.

  2. cmccourt@stanford.edu says:

    I found it interesting that corporal punishment in Tanzanian schools is a vestige of colonization, but that the colonizer no longer practices this type of punishment in school. This situation suggests that the “use” for corporal punishment is real in schools (probably largely, as Prof. Murray pointed out, as a “strategy of those in power to maintain the status quo”).
    I also found it interesting that Tanzanian law specifies the number of allowable “strokes” that can be used during caning. The fact that this sort of discussion exists in legal documents shows that the government’s allowing of this kind of behavior is explicit, not just implicit.

  3. lizzyg@stanford.edu says:

    Who knew the education system was being used as a means of recruitment for prostitution and cheap labor? That makes me sick to my stomach that girls drop out of school in order to avoid having their bodies be used as a commodity. This effectively eliminates their chances for any semblance of social or economic parity completely because as we’ve discussed quite frequently in class education is the most powerful tool for empowering women. I also am sort of struggling finding some organizations working to fight abuse in Japan, so don’t worry about a thing!