Women in World History
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Sample Activity from
Action Guide for Girls’ Education

Reclaiming the Public Space

The safety of girls is a prime concern in ensuring that girls have equal access to education. This concern is shared around the world at all levels of education, and can be a primary concern of parents. Safety can be a sensitive topic, especially when issues of sexual harassment and abuse may be involved. We encourage teachers, parents, and students to openly discuss these problems, and then identify as many strategies as possible to create a safe, educational environment for female students.

The following scenarios, drawn from actual incidents on American and Indian campuses, are taken from the section on activities to ensure girl’s safety found in the Action Guide for Girls’ Education.

Scenario 1:

Katy, who is fifteen years old, learns that there are bad things written about her on the walls of the boys’ bathroom at school. She is identified on the wall as a “slut.” Katy is shattered and starts to seriously wonder whether she is to blame for behaving in a manner that has caused her to be characterized as a sexually loose person. But her parents trust her and encourage her to file a formal protest with school authorities about the demeaning writings about her. She is told that it will be taken care of. Three months later, the writings are still there on the wall and she is still taunted by other students. The school administration makes no attempt to explain its concern or policy to the male students, nor has the graffiti been painted over. It takes two years of constant protest by Katy and her family before the graffiti is scrubbed off by a janitor, but she feels that her image has been tarnished. She files a law suit charging that her rights to equal education opportunity have been denied and seeks compensation for emotional damage and suffering resulting from slander. She wins the case and receives $15,000 from the school system. Additionally, the school district agrees to display a revised sexual harassment policy in all schools, provide training to sensitize students and staff, and to check bathrooms daily for graffiti.


• What you would do if a similar situation came up in your school. If you were a teacher, what advice would you give the girl? How would you investigate the complaint? What action would be taken to prevent the reoccurrence of this type of incident?

• What can families and schools do to discourage boys from this and other types of sexually demeaning and harassing behavior?

• How can school authorities enforce a clean and friendly learning environment that respects the dignity and privacy of all students?

Scenario 2:

Helen Cho is an Asian American high school girl who has been raised to be polite to others. One day she calls her male work partner “stupid” after he makes a condescending suggestion about how the project should be done. Another boy overhears her remark and says to the male student that he would never allow “his bitch” to speak to him that way. Helen is shocked at his abusive statement but is unable to say anything. Her project partner also elects to say nothing. The other boy has no idea that his comment has been construed as personally offensive and abusive by Helen.


• What is verbal abuse? What might you have done had you been in Helen’s situation?

• What names might be considered abusive in your school setting?

• How should the teacher deal with the behavior of the abusive boy?

• How might you encourage Helen’s project partner to stop lending passive support to verbal or other abuse?

• What about Helen’s behavior: is there anything she could or should be encouraged to do?

• If a teacher is verbally abusive in sexual terms to you or in your presence, how would you take up the issue with school authorities? How would you tell the teacher that verbal abuse is unacceptable behavior?

Scenario 3:

Vinita is an undergraduate student in New Delhi, India, who walks from the bus depot to campus every morning. Mostly she walks in a group of girls because she fears aggression and intimidation from the men on the street. One day, finding her alone, a bunch of male college students begin to make catcalls and throw pebbles at her. One pebble hits the side of her head. She is very frightened and runs all the way to class. She reports the incident to no one. She vows to herself to never walk alone again, and she voluntarily surrenders her right to use public space to a bunch of bullies.


• If you were Vinita, would you have handled the situation differently?

• What can a school or college do to eliminate verbally and physically abusive behavior?

• What can public authorities do to alleviate this type of behavior? How might this incident be handled and resolved?

• How can girls be assisted to protect themselves in personally intimidating situations?

• How can girls be enabled to be confident enough to come forward with reports of abusive public behavior, and at the same time, retain their self-esteem?

• Do problems of sexual harassment and gender relations have a place in a school’s formal curriculum?

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