It’s time to address school-related gender-based violence in emergency settings
“In the village or the camp, girls can be raped. The armed groups can come and rape you, or make you go with them to be their wife. When I’m at school I feel protected from this because they don’t come here”.
These are the words of a young internally displaced girl in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She reflects what is reasonable to expect; that schools are safe and supportive places for children. But an estimated 246 million children experience school-related violence every year. For them, schools are not places of safety but rather places where they feel vulnerable and insecure. Children living in conflict are at particular risk.
Weak education systems = heightened risk
In crises contexts, education systems are often severely constrained, leading to increased risk of school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV). Physical and human resources are greatly diminished. School days are often split in two, with children either attendeing morning or late afternoon classes, with most adolescents traveling to and from school in the evening. Girls often cite feeling unsafe in school or while going to school as a reason for not attending.
Education in Emergencies (EIE) programming often makes use of volunteers or untrained teachers. They may be insufficiently trained and not equipped to ensure safe and child-friendly learning environments. Often they lack supervision, motivation and support, including payment, the risk of GBV increases. A male dominated learning environment is another risk factor.
All of this is quite common in emergency situations.
A starting point
With so many risk factors, it is essential to address SRGBV in EIE programming. But with few good practices available, where do you start?
For the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), the starting point was a project in post-war Liberia, where NRC was running vocational training centres for IDP youth. SRGBV was widespread in Liberia; a study found that nearly a third of students had, or were, experiencing SRGBV.
NRC’s approach included training of teachers and youth in GBV prevention, and establishment of youth groups in learning centres. Teacher and youth SRGBV focal points were appointed. A SRGBV action plan was developed, through a process involving female and male learners, teachers and the community. Finally, a GBV reporting and referral system was set up. NRC later supported the Ministry of Education (MOE) with a similar approach in selected public schools.
Based on the Liberia pilot, NRC has developed a global approach to addressing SRGBV. The toolkit has been field tested and is ready for roll out in countries where NRC provides education.
One essential take away from NRC is the need for strong involvement of the Ministry of Education, to create ownership and ensure that MOE has the capacity needed to respond to SRGBV. Often Ministries of Education have limited know-how, policies or systems to address SRGBV, and breaches to Codes of Conduct are not acted upon.
What is being done to end SRGBV in refugee situations?
To better understand what approaches are being used by humanitarian actors to address SRGBV, the Global Working Group to end SRGBV recently launched a global survey.
As highlighted in a new briefing paper, the survey point to a need to better integrate community protection strategies with school based programs to address SRGBV – working with teachers, school administrators as well as district and national education authorities is essential.
While improving education opportunities for refugee children and adolescents is complex, it cannot be taken for granted that learning environments in these contexts are safe and protective. Programme design must intentionally factor in the gendered dimensions of exclusion, violence and discrimination that refugee girls and boys face.
It is time to act!
Like the young girl in DRC, displaced children are asking for an education. Education systems and actors – teachers, administrators and education union members – have an important role to play as duty bearers to ensure that education results in learning outcomes and is also protective. Development and humanitarian partners have a responsibility to offer support and assistance and work across sectors and levels of government to ensure that schools and learning environments are safe, quality and free from gender-based violence. It is time for joint action!
 NRC and Save the Children: Hear it from the Children. Why education in emergencies is crucial  INEE (2010): Gender Equality in and Through Education. INEE Pocket Guide to Gender http://toolkit.ineesite.org/toolkit/INEEcms/uploads/1059/INEE_Pocket_Guide_to_Gender_EN.pdf  MOE et al (2012): Passing the Test. The real cost of being a student. http://resourcecentre.savethechildren.se/sites/default/files/documents/passing_the_test_liberia_single_side.pdf ___________________________ About the Authors Sujata Bordoloi is the coordinator of the Global Working Group to End SRGBV, a coalition of 40 agencies working on SRGBV. It is co-hosted by UNGEI and UNESCO with support from USAID. She is an education specialist working on gender and girls’ education issues and has previously worked on establishing education in post-disaster and post-conflict settings.