Gender-based violence, especially in schools, is prevalent everywhere in the world. According to UN Women and UNESCO, more than 246 million children are subjected to gender-based violence in or around schools every year.
Because of the gender norms and stereotypes in our society, girls are particularly vulnerable to such violence. Nearly half of all sexual assaults are committed against girls younger than 16. The violence compromises their physical and socio-emotional progress.
Girls drop out of school or are unable to learn; they face long-term health risks and may get stuck in cycles of violence and abuse. Gender-based violence has devastating long-term implications for children.
Adding my voice to the cause
In order to play my part and be part of the change I want to see, I started working on gender and child protection in India. Growing up in India, I witnessed how social norms in school perpetuated gender-based violence.
School textbooks, for example, had stereotypical gendered depictions of career and social roles – soldiers and doctors were men, while women were shown to cook and clean in the house.
Often, during physical education classes, boys were encouraged to play outdoor sports and girls were encouraged into less physically challenging sports. And the data shows that much of gender-based violence takes place in schools. So, schools are the place where gender-based violence most needs to be fought.
For a large and diverse country like India, which grapples with pressing challenges of poverty and inequality, education from a gender-sensitive perspective often takes a backseat. But that perspective is key since it allows us to question harmful social norms around gender, which legitimize gender-based violence, and the lack of punishment and accountability for the perpetrators.
In my work at Oxfam India, I co-lead the gender campaign Bano Nayi Soch to eliminate violence against women and girls. Our research across India highlighted the very grim reality of the violent environments in which girls live and struggle to complete their education.