Stronger accountability can help ensure cases of gender-based school violence are reported
As part I of this blog showed, violent behaviour is rife in schools, and sometimes perpetrated by teachers themselves. Addressing the issue requires a multilevel approach, including effective laws and policies, relevant curricula and learning materials, educator training and support, partnerships between education and other sectors, and monitoring and evaluation. Accountability, and particularly accountability of teachers, is crucial to tackling the problem, as the latest GEM Report and this blog shows:
1. Legislation must be strengthened to address teacher misconduct and gender violence. National laws, plans and policies addressing school-related gender-based violence should clearly state that government institutions will not tolerate violent behaviour. Some countries, including Chile, Fiji, Finland, Peru, the Republic of Korea and Sweden, have legislation referring to violence in education institutions. In other countries, including Ireland, Singapore and the United Kingdom, anti-discrimination, human rights and equality laws address such violence in the absence of specific legislation.
Supporting policies to implement legislation are equally crucial. In 2011, Palestine adopted a national strategic plan running to 2019 to combat violence against women. It provides a complementary policy framework and interventions, including strengthening the role of qualified counsellors, developing monitoring and accountability mechanisms and revising curricula.
But enforcement of laws and codes remains a challenge in some countries partly because of deep-seated social and gender norms at local levels. In South Africa, strategies to address gender-based violence are supported by a strong legal and policy framework and detailed guidelines for schools. Yet schools are not legally required to adopt the national guidelines, and school leaders have been reluctant to report abuse of students by fellow staff members. In the United Kingdom, head teachers and governing bodies are legally required to report allegations against staff to the Local Education Authority. It is a criminal offence not to make a referral when specific criteria have been met.
Policy and programme frameworks require systematic monitoring and evaluation.Comprehensive approaches require better evidence about which strategies effectively reduce the prevalence of SRGBV, including more robust systems for measuring levels of and responses to violence, and intersecting risk factors. In Côte d’Ivoire, where a national cross-sector policy on child protection was finalised in 2012, a framework for the coordination and monitoring of child protection strategies was also established in the Ministry of Education.
2. Teacher codes of conduct should also explicitly refer to violence and abuse and ensure that penalties are clear and consistent with children’s legal rights and protections. Kenya, for instance, has a range of penalties for breach of professional conduct, including suspension and interdiction. In Malawi, the Safe Schools Program, initiated in 2005, lobbied for revisions to the Teachers’ Code of Conduct and stronger enforcement of regulations on teacher misconduct. Schools and communities received training on the revised code and the number of teachers who knew how to report a violation of the code increased from 45% to 75%.
3. Teachers need training to help promote gender-sensitive and inclusive classrooms and develop positive forms of discipline in schools. Teachers act as agents of positive change by promoting respect, fairness and inclusiveness among pupils. But teachers can also act as agents of conflict if they use pedagogy and curricula to perpetuate a culture of violence. Plan International, through its ‘Learn without Fear’ campaign launched in 2011, worked with teachers, parents and district education authorities in Viet Nam to develop positive forms of discipline in schools. Teachers who received training were more in favour of abolishing corporal punishment than teachers who were not trained.
The Doorways programme in Burkina Faso, Ghana and Malawi trains upper primary and lower secondary teachers in children’s rights and responsibilities, basic counselling and listening skills, and the teacher code of conduct. In Ghana, teacher awareness of sexual harassment at school as a result of the programme increased from 30% to 80% for girls and 26% to 64% for boys.
School staff also need to be trained to listen, support and help students report incidents. However, staff may be ill prepared to provide such support. In the United States, less than one-third of LGBTI students who reported victimization said staff effectively addressed the problem.
Additional support strategies include training teachers, hiring guidance counsellors and developing community volunteer and peer support systems. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one project trained teachers to act as first responders to SRGBV. After the project, 95% of teachers and 90% of students reported being aware of how to prevent gender-based violence in schools, compared to 56% and 33% before, respectively. The project also led to a 66% reduction in teachers’ use of violent corporal punishment, such as striking students or using whips or canes.
4. Advocacy and lobbying is an important first step in ensuring that adequate legal and policy frameworks are in place to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in schools.
Advocacy and lobbying through national networks and alliances have also been key in developing teacher codes of conduct. In Ghana and Malawi, the Safe Schools Programme lobbied successfully for revisions to the codes of conduct and called for stronger enforcement of regulations on teacher misconduct
Working directly with teacher unions can build support for taking action against teachers who violate codes of conduct. A survey of teachers’ trade unions affiliated to Education International found that over half of the 125 respondents from different regions were involved in initiatives to respond to SRGBV, including raising awareness, producing materials, and training.
In Kenya, the Stop Violence against Girls in School advocacy team collaborated with the Teachers’ Service Commission, the Ministry of Education, the Teachers Union and the Children’s Department to draft a parliamentary bill on sexual abuse. The union, which previously was often a block to reform, is now reported to be committed to avoid protecting teachers found guilty of an offence, and a centralized database has been established to track teachers convicted of sexual offences.
5. Empower students and give them a role in solving SRGBV. Sexuality education that addresses sexual diversity and gender identity or expression can lead to more inclusive school cultures). In the Netherlands, more extensive sexuality education on more topics correlated with increased willingness by witnesses to intervene in name-calling by staff of LGBTI students.
As the varied content in this blog shows, a coordinated, multilevel and multifaceted approach is needed to tackle violence in schools, recognizing the interrelated nature of different forms of violence both within and outside the school environment