More Attention on School-related Gender-based Violence

April 21, 2014

This post originally appeared on the Global Partnership for Education blog on 21 April 2014.

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©GPE/2014

Highlights from the Comparative and International Education Society Conference.

Last month, I attended the Comparative and International Education Society Conference (CIES) Conference in Toronto, Canada. This year’s focus was on Revisioning Education for All. Just the sheer number of gender-related panel discussions on girls’ education and gender equality (27!) seemed to indicate an increased importance of these topics in current education research. Three panels focused on school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV), a topic that received very little attention in the past.

What is school-related gender-based violence?

School-related gender-based violence is defined as acts or threats of sexual, physical or psychological violence occurring in or around schools and educational settings as a result of gender norms and unequal power dynamics between genders.

It includes acts of bullying, sexual or verbal harassment, non-consensual touching, rape and assault. Although both girls and boys can be targets of SRGBV, girls are the most vulnerable. While girls and boys experiences vary across and within countries, SRGBV is a global phenomenon. No school is immune to the attitudes and beliefs within the broader community that promote harmful gender norms or condone acts of gender-based violence. Addressing these issues is a key focus for international organizations working on education issues.

Conference panel on gender based violence

Plan International, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), and the Global Partnership for Education organized a panel A Girl’s Right to Learn Without Fear: Program and Policy Interventions to address School-Related Gender-Based Violence. The panel reviewed findings from Plan International`s report A Girl`s Right to Learn Without Fear, along with new results from Plan International’s programs in Sierra Leone and Bangladesh and country examples on what GPE partner developing countries are doing to address SRGBV. UNGEI provided observations and conclusions from a global perspective.

Panelists discussed fundamental questions: How to maximise strategic opportunities through multi-dimensional approaches to addressing SRGBV? What programmatic strategies are showing promising results in reducing SRGBV? What is the role of school leadership and teachers in program design of SRGBV interventions? How can girls and boys be engaged in meaningful ways to discuss their concerns on SRGBV? What is the role of global advocacy in reducing SRGBV? What is the evidence needed for national ministries of education and country governments to scale up efforts to address SRGBV?

Experience in Sierra Leone and Bangladesh

In Sierra Leone, violence including corporal punishment and gender-based violence against girls used to be very common. In 2013, the country introduced interventions to raise awareness and build both capacity and systems for reporting on and responding to violence against children. The program emphasized the importance of ensuring that measures to safeguard children are in place before undertaking SRGBV interventions.

Strong school leadership, involving teachers in program design and seeking viable nonviolent forms of punishment, and ensuring space for girls to discuss their concerns were crucial for the success of the program. It was also important to involve men, boys and communities and to ensure effective monitoring.

The program in Bangladesh supported students as change agents. Teachers and students were trained on elements of a program to protect human rights so boys and girls gained a deeper understanding of gender as a construct of social relations and what this means to their lives.

Still a long way to go

Based on a review of 40 GPE program implementation grant and 40 education sector plans, the Global Partnership for Education was able to highlight how governments are addressing SRGBV in their plans and applications for financing. The results showed only a handful of countries were addressing issues of SRGBV. Looking forward, the Global Partnership for Education and UNGEI will further strengthen countries’ capacity in gender-responsive sector planning.

Plan International has a global framework of eight principles for government action to prevent and reduce SRGBV. The framework is straightforward and simple, but ensuring that countries set in place mechanisms to create legislation and legal polies to enforce these principles needs to be a priority if we want to prevent a further rise of SRGBV and ensure that girls can learn without fear.

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