#16Days – Youth as Partners in Combating School-Related GBV: Improving Education and Livelihoods in Uganda
The theme of this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign is ending school-related gender-based violence. Violence and abuse in and around schools affects approximately 246 million girls and boys every year.
School-based gender-based violence can take the form of sexual, physical or psychological violence that children or youth experience in or around school. It is violence that girls or boys experience because of stereotypes that have to do with their sex or gendered identity.
School-based gender-based violence happens in every country around the world. The statistics we have on the prevalence of school-based gender-based violence are most likely low since victims are afraid of reporting violence is the perpetrator is a an authority figure such as a teacher or school official. Additionally, reporting violence that girls or boys experience around school may cause their parents to pull them out of school if it is deemed unsafe – another reason victims may be unlikely to report violence.
As a young school girl in Uganda I saw first hand the challenges girls face to continue their education. Many of the challenges they face begin from home and affect their ability to study and relate well with others.
When I was six years old my uncle sexually assaulted me. I became pregnant for the first time at fifteen. As a girl, I was made to feel I had lost my dignity both at school and home. Running away from home to the streets made me feel safe as I hid from the people I was ashamed to look at. I didn’t finish school.
Today I am a school dropout and a mother living with HIV. And my story is not unique. As girls we face violence all around us, in the home, in the community and often in the school.
Girls are being married off at thirteen and forced to leave school. Teachers are impregnating their pupils and denying responsibility. Parents pull their girls out school after they discover they are pregnant.
Some years have passed and through empowerment sessions, I have become a strong advocate for policies that respond to and punish perpetrators of gender-based violence. I am also an advocate for comprehensive sexual and reproductive education in schools as a tool to empower our girls and boys.
I strongly believe that if I had some knowledge on what to do or where to report then, I would never have faced the challenges I did.
When I lead discussions in secondary schools I still hear many of the same concerns I struggled with:
Can I continue to go to school if I am HIV positive? My father says I should stop taking ARVS because they are useless and I am going to die soon.
My uncle has been sexually abusing me. I cannot tell my mother because she will not believe me.
Boys laugh at me because my skirt has blood. I stopped going to school whenever my periods start because I have no pads.
What is the best family planning option for me?
We need all actors – school leaders, teachers, the Ministry of Education, communicate members, parents, donors and policy makers alike – to make school-related gender-based violence a priority. Not only does violence in and around schools affect a students’ ability to focus and learn, but it has lasting negative effects on her life and well-being.
16 Days of Violence Against Activism is an opportunity to highlight the daily plight of young girls and boys as they struggle to get an education. But it is not our only opportunity to do so. We need concerted efforts and real change in our communities and globally to see a safer future for all children and youth.
UN Agencies and Member States must recognize that without addressing school-based gender-based violence we will not be able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Governments must create and implement laws that protect children from all forms of violence and establish child-friendly mechanisms for children and youth to report violence.
Donors must expand financing to support programs and research on good practices for addressing violence.
Ministries of Education, school administrators and education unions must adopt school codes that explicitly prohibit violence, ensure it is enforced and establish safe and confidential ways for children and youth to report violence. Ministries and schools should ensure that education that curricula, textbooks, pedagogy and classroom practices are gender-sensitive and promote peace and gender equality, including through comprehensive sexuality education. Strengthen teacher to ensure it is gender-sensitive.
Researchers must build a strong evidence base and address gaps in knowledge on school-based gender-based violence especially for children marginalized by poverty, ethnicity, language, caste, disability, religion, refugee status, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.
NGOs, civil society and the international development community must build a global movement, together with men and boys, communities and stakeholders to eliminate SRGBV. They must expand programming to establishing multi-sectoral coordination, fostering community participation and the voices of boys and girls and integrate SRGBV into other initiatives on HIV/AIDS, sexual and reproductive health, violence prevention in schools, humanitarian response and peace building, children’s rights, gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment.
Communities – including parents – must end harmful social beliefs and practices that cause violence against girls and boys in schools and strengthen reporting within communities and educational institutions.
Girls and Boys must stand up and be recognized as change-makers. We must raise our voices against school-based gender-based violence and demand safe school environments for our peers around the world.
Barbara Kemigisa is a HIV, Family Planning and Sexuality Education Campaigner in Uganda.