Dhaka Courier

Addressing gender based violence in schools

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Global Guidance on Addressing School-Related Gender-Based Violence, Published by UNESCO, 2016, Pages: 123, ISBN: 978-92-3-100191-8

School-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) is at the moment a global phenomenon that affects millions of children, families, schools and communities.  While it is aggravated in countries affected by conflict, it otherwise knows no geographical, cultural, social, economic or ethnic boundaries. SRGBV violates children’s fundamental human rights and is a form of gender discrimination. Experiencing SRGBV can hinder a child’s well-being, their physical and emotional health, as well as harming their cognitive and emotional development, and it negatively impacts school performance and long-term educational outcomes. Evidence suggests that SRGBV can also have far-reaching consequences for children who have witnessed such violence, as they may grow up to repeat the behaviour that they have ‘learned’ and to regard it as acceptable. The UNESCO publication “Global Guidance on Addressing School-Related Gender-Based Violence” aims to provide a comprehensive, one-stop resource on school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV), including clear, knowledge-based operational guidance, diverse case studies drawn from examples of promising practice and recommended tools for the education sector and its partners working to eliminate gender-based violence.

The publication is divided into two sections. The first section ‘Understanding SRGBV’ presents the Introduction and Background. School-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) can be defined as acts or threats of sexual, physical or psychological violence occurring in and around schools, perpetrated as a result of gender norms and stereotypes, and enforced by unequal power dynamics. Children and young people have different experiences of SRGBV depending on their sex, their gender identity, their country and context. For example, research shows that girls are more likely to experience psychological bullying, cyber-bullying, sexual violence and harassment. On the other hand, boys often face higher rates of corporal punishment than girls. There is also a growing body of evidence that indicates that most LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students report having experienced bullying or violence on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

Gender-based violence can occur in and around schools, as well as on the way to or from schools. Bullying is the most prevalent form of violence in schools, regularly affecting more than one in three students between the ages of 13 and 15 worldwide. Around 120 million girls (one in 10) under the age of 20 worldwide have experienced sexual violence. Although this data is not disaggregated according to where the violence took place, high rates of sexual harassment have been reported in many countries. For example, two out of five school principals in Southern and Eastern Africa acknowledged sexual harassment occurred between pupils in their primary schools. Millions of children live in fear of physical abuse under the guise of discipline: more than 80 per cent of students in some countries suffer corporal punishment at school. Half of all children worldwide live in countries where they have no legal protection from corporal punishment. Marginalized groups are at increased risk. In a survey of 3,706 primary schoolchildren from Uganda, 24 per cent of 11 to 14-year-old girls with disabilities reported sexual violence at school, compared to 12 per cent of non-disabled girls. Cyber-bullying often overlaps with school bullying and is a growing concern. A study of 20,426 US high school students found that a majority (60 per cent) of cyber-bullying victims were also bullied at school. The same study also found that girls were more likely than boys to report that they had been victims of cyber-bullying.

Section-2 titled ‘Practical Action for Holistic SRGBV Responses’ contains six thematic chapters which present recommendations to address the school related gender-based violence. SRGBV must be incorporated into national policies and action plans that recognize the need for prevention, responses to mitigate against impact, and accountability. Governments should demonstrate leadership at the national and local levels by developing and implementing laws and policies on SRGBV; strengthening connections between education and child protection systems. (Chapter-1# Leadership: Laws, policies and educational reform) Whole-school approaches are needed to make schools safer, more learner-centered and a better environment for children to learn. Such approaches aim to create safe and welcoming spaces, promoting strong messages that SRGBV is not acceptable and enforcing codes of conduct that detail the recognized ethical norms and standards of behaviour for all school staff, and potentially also students and their parents. (Chapter-2# Environment: Ensuring schools are safe and supportive)

Education has a key role to play in transforming the root causes of violence, and especially GBV. What students are taught and how they are taught is essential to preventing SRGBV. Curricula to prevent violence and promote gender equality, training education staff to give them the tools to prevent and respond to SRGBV and establishing safe spaces where co-curricular interventions can be used as an entry point for addressing SRGBV. (Chapter-3# Prevention: Curriculum, teaching and training) Responses to SRGBV should ensure the availability of easily-accessible, child-sensitive and confidential reporting mechanisms, healthcare services including counseling and support, and referral to law enforcement. (Chapter-4# Responses: In and around schools)

Addressing a complex issue such as SRGBV in a way that will bring about sustainable change requires collaborating with, and engaging key stakeholders (i.e. government sectors, teachers’ unions, communities, families and children) in strategic partnerships. Coordination across all levels is needed to understand the perspectives of these different stakeholders, what constrains and enables them to act and what support, training and resources they need. (Chapter-5# Partnership: Collaborating with and engaging key stakeholders) A clear monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework, relevant and feasible indicators and comprehensive national data collection systems can help programmes to understand what is changing as it happens and therefore improve SRGBV policy-making and resource mobilization. (Chapter-6# Evidence: Monitoring and evaluation of SRGBV).

The writer is an independent researcher.

  • DhakaCourier
  • Vol 35
  • S. M. Rayhanul Islam
  • Issue 25
  • Addressing gender based violence in schools

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