The policy paper, “School-related gender-based violence is preventing the achievement of quality education for all,” launched today at the Commission on the Status of Women in New York.
School-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) is a global phenomenon that impacts millions of children worldwide, especially girls. The new paper explores the extent, causes and repercussions of SRGBV and highlights the need for gender disaggregated evidence to better inform policy. Available data on violence against children allow us to build a partial picture of gender-based violence in schools, but a significant number of cases are under-reported and the exact number of children suffering as a result of SRGBV remains unknown.
SRGBV is defined as acts or threats of sexual, physical or psychological violence occurring in and around schools, perpetrated as a result of social norms and gender stereotypes, and enforced by unequal power dynamics. It also refers to the differences between girls’ and boys’ experiences of and vulnerabilities to violence.
Estimates from Plan International, based on the number of children affected by verbal bullying, show that 246 million boys and girls experience this type of SRGBV each year. In France, 40% of students reported being victims of cyberbullying and in Zambia, 61% of schoolchildren reported being bullied in the previous month. Millions more children suffer physical violence at school under the guise of discipline: over one-half of all children live in countries where they have no legal protection from corporal punishment in school.
Sexual violence is a particularly destructive form of SRGBV, manifested as verbal and psychological harassment, sexual assault, rape, coercion and discrimination in and around schools.
“The teacher can send a girl to leave her exercise books in the office and the teacher follows her to make a proposal for sex, and because she fears to answer no, she says I will answer tomorrow. She then stops coming to school because of fear …” – Margaret, grade 7 student in Malawi
Reports from Sierra Leone show that girls who cannot pay for school-related expenses are often coerced into sexual relationships by male teachers. A recent review from UNESCO reveals that 10% of adolescent girls aged 15-19 have reported instances of forced sexual intercourse or other sexual acts in the previous year. It is important to note that sexual violence affects both boys and girls in all countries regardless of level of economic development. In the United Kingdom, it is estimated that one in three 16-18 year olds has experienced unwanted touching in schools.
‘I am thinking of leaving school because of beatings and they insult us and our parents. The teacher beat me with a stick and my hands had been injured’ – Young girl, Egypt
Bullying is one of the most widely documented types of violence in schools. The 2011 Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) from 30 countries shows that in all but two countries, over 20% of students reported experiencing at least some form of bullying once or twice per month. Bullying can increase absenteeism and reduce school achievement for both boys and girls.
Children with disabilities, LGBT children and those belonging to disadvantaged groups are more likely to experience SRGBV. Children that live in conflict zones are also more vulnerable. An early UNHCR/Save the Children UK report uncovered widespread sexual exploitation of Liberian girls by teachers in refugee camps in Guinea. Fear for girls’ safety in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea have also led to parents withdrawing their girls from school.
SRGBV can have serious detrimental effects on children’s health and well-being and their ability to learn to their full potential. It can negatively impact school participation, learning levels and completion rates and raises barriers to gender equality in education and wider society.
“School-related gender-based violence is preventing the achievement of quality education for all,” calls for the following:
- Improved research and monitoring in order to clarify the risk factors, facilitating conditions and contexts of SRGBV
- The development of national policies and action plans to identify, prevent and tackle SRGBV
- A multisectorial approach with collaboration at the district level across education, health and youth and welfare sectors.