Today marks the start of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, coordinated by the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative. This year’s theme, From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Make Education Safe for All, highlights the need to end school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) and stresses the urgency of ending this debilitating practice now.
In March this year, the GMR jointly released a policy paper with UNGEI that explicitly outlined the effects of SRGBV on education and made recommendations for the future. This policy paper helped lead the march towards UNESCO confirming its first ever resolution on SRGBV: ‘Learning without Fear’. It also heavily influenced the 16 steps that are outlined in the call to action for today’s campaign
What is School-related gender based violence?
SRGBV is defined as ‘acts or threats of sexual, physical, or psychological violence occurring in and around schools and educational settings as a result of gender norms and stereotypes and unequal power dynamics’.
The phenomenon is far-reaching, affecting an estimated 246 million boys and girls in and around schools every year according to Plan International.
It should not be assumed that SRGBV affects only girls. Boys can be affected too. Evidence suggests girls are at greater risk for sexual violence, harassment and exploitation, perpetuated by male students and teachers. Boys are more likely to experience frequent and severe physical violence and bullying. Both girls and boys can be perpetrators of school-related gender-based violence as well. Boys are more commonly perpetrators of physical bullying, and girls more likely to use verbal or psychological forms of violence. Yet cases are not always clear cut: girls also commit violent acts and boys also experience sexual abuse.
SRGBV prevents children, especially girls, exercising their right to a safe, inclusive and quality education
In addition to physical and psychological trauma, SRGBV contributes to poor school performance, increased drop-out rates, and unsafe and violent school environments.
Analysis of TIMSS 2011 data found that grade 8 students in many countries scored lower in mathematics if they had reported being bullied compared with those who had not. In Jordan, Oman, Palestine and Romania, grade 8 boys who were bullied were the least likely to reach at least a level 1 proficiency in mathematics; in Chile, Ghana and the Islamic Republic of Iran, girls subjected to bullying, on average, performed the poorest. Gender-based violence contributes to girls’ poor performance and dropout. Rape or forced or coerced sex can lead to early and unintended pregnancies and, as a consequence, an increased risk of girls’ education being curtailed.
Conflict leaves a legacy of gender-based violence
Children in conflict-affected countries are at particular risk for gender-based violence. Moreover, the direct and indirect effects of widespread sexual violence can continue long after conflicts end.
In Liberia, for instance, the recently released EFA GMR Gender Report 2015 shows that widespread sexual violence was prevalent during the country’s 14 year civil war and has left a legacy of high levels of crime and gender-based violence. A 2012 study reported 20% of students were abused by teachers. The long-term impact of conflict on SRGBV in this case is shockingly clear with almost 50% of boys and 30% of girls agreeing that sexual abuse and violence were a normal part of relationships.
SRGBV can play on already existing vulnerabilities
Children’s vulnerability to SRGBV increases if they live with a disability, express a sexual orientation different from the mainstream, or are part of an already disadvantaged group. In Thailand, for instance, 56% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students had reported being bullied in the past month.
Poverty, gender inequalities and disability also interact to place girls at particular risk. One survey of 3,706 primary schoolchildren aged 11–14 in Uganda found that double the amount of children with disabilities reported experiencing sexual violence at school than those without.
SRGBV is a global phenomenon
Although much of the research in gender-based violence is based in sub-Saharan Africa, it affects children in both developing and developed countries. One survey of over 2,000 secondary students across the United States showed over 80% had experienced some form of sexual harassment at school. A recent study in the Netherlands found 27% of students had been sexually harassed by school personnel.
Bullying is one of the most widely documented types of violence in schools. Cyberbullying is also a growing concern. 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.
The new Sustainable Development Agenda gives impetus to finding a solution to SRGBV
Of critical importance is the fact that gender equality is one of the 17 main Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with SRGBV is cited as a barrier to its achievement. To understand what this means, a common, clear and internationally-agreed definition of SRGBV is needed. Research and monitoring on this issue must be strengthened and harmonised. Effective solutions will promote collaboration across multiple sectors and the involvement school leaders, teachers, parents, students and government officials. Governments and local communities must show commitment and leadership on the issue by incorporating it into education policies and action plans. Clubs and associations can empower girls and encourage them to challenge inequalities and different forms of gender discrimination.
Our newly branded 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report) out next fall will aim to identify which underlying mechanisms influence gender equality in education in particular, and how these can be addressed. It will also describe education settings that create gender- responsive school environments; promote gender-empowering knowledge, attitudes and transferable skills; address discrimination and gender-based violence; and contribute to healthy life choices, including sexual and reproductive health. The 2016 GEM Report seeks to disentangle the complex links among policies, practices and processes in formal and non-formal education that influence progress towards gender equality.
As this blog makes clear, SRGBV is a complex and multi-faceted issue, encompassing many types of violent acts that can occur within, around and on the way to and from school. It will take longer than 16 days to tackle SRGBV; but, with the increased awareness and knowledge gained from this campaign, and a supportive new SDG agenda, let’s hope the issue gets the place at the centre table it has long deserved.