In late March, I joined a unique gathering of governments, civil society, teaching unions and UN and multilateral organizations in Johannesburg at the ‘Global Learning Symposium: Solutions to end school-related gender-based violence’. Organized by the UN Girls’ Education Initiative and UNESCO, the event gave governments and their partners a platform to share evidence on promising approaches to end violence in and around schools.
The prevalence of SRGBV
School-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) can be defined as ‘acts or threats of sexual, physical, or psychological violence occurring in and around school, perpetrated as a result of gender norms and stereotypes, and enforced by unequal power dynamics’.1
It affects millions of children, families and communities and occurs in every part of the world. It is linked to patterns of violence in the wider society, and while girls and boys can be both victims and perpetrators of violence, the extent and form differs.
The participants discussed approaches to prevent and respond to the gender-based violence faced by students at school, or on their journey to school, as well as online, including, bullying, sexual violence, sexual harassment and intimate partner violence. Each country faces a different context and level of violence, yet all agreed that the negative impact of this violence on students learning and wellbeing is significant.
A dearth of data
Despite progress since the start of the Global Working Group to end SRGBV working group in 2014 – there is still a lack of data on this issue. UNESCO’s report Behind the numbers: ending school violence and bullying contains a comprehensive analysis from a range of sources.
However challenges remain in understanding complexities and differences in how girls and boys are affected, and whether the data we currently have is telling us the full story. SRGBV is often not reported due to stigma, shame, fear of the response, and a lack of safe, secure reporting and response mechanisms.
Surveys on violence against children by Together for Girls also seek to address this issue, particularly around sexual violence, and to identify risk factors, protective factors and consequences of violence.
Participants at the workshop shared a range of resources with each other, including the UNGEI Guidance: ‘A whole school approach to prevent school-related gender-based violence: Minimum standards and monitoring framework’. The guidance responds to a gap on the issue of SRGBV, addressing the need for greater gender-awareness in addressing school violence and achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 4 target of safe, inclusive and gender sensitive learning environments.
Governments shared their experiences of working to prevent and address school related gender-based violence, and many of the partners shared how they have embedded this work into education sector plans and dialogues. There was strong interest from the governments present to continue sharing their ideas and learning from each other’s strategies on this critical issue.
Reforming education systems to prevent school-related gender-based violence is a bit like ‘rebuilding an airplane while it’s in the air’, explained one participant. Because the system carries on, and students are learning, yet supportive laws and policies, dedicated time in curriculum, and support from school leadership and political will are urgently needed to bring about change.
Countries share their experience
Ministries of Education from Eswatini, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, South Sudan, Uganda and Zambia shared their programs and lessons, and called for donors to coordinate their support to governments on this issue.
In South Sudan the girl’s education policy includes a focus on school-related gender-based violence. Ester Akumu Ahire, the Gender Advisor from South Sudan’s ministry of education also shared the need for more data and research on this issue.
In Kenya the government is leading cross-sectoral work to address sexual and gender-based violence. They have standard operating procedures in place for reporting and responding to incidents in schools, and are keen to do more to actively engage schools into the work on preventing violence.
Zambia shared their work to integrate SRGBV into their education sector plan, including budget and an action plan on this critical issue as well as insights from their work piloting Connect with Respect: a toolkit for educators. This transformative curriculum aims to change the norms and relationships between girls and boys to prevent school-related gender-based violence.
In Ethiopia, the Ministry of Education worked with UNICEF, within the education sector plan, to develop a code of conduct on violence for teachers and students, which outlined the behavior expected and the sanctions for perpetrators.
In Uganda, Raising voices and RTI are working with the Ministry of Education on key interventions around socio-emotional learning and addressing violence. Uganda is also a pathfinder country for the Safe to Learn campaign, and have launched their Violence Against Children survey this year.
Other partners, including Education International, national teachers’ unions, UNICEF, Raising Voices, Plan International, RTI International, FAWE and World Education shared their experiences on tackling SRGBV through a range of interventions. Promising progress is being made to change social norms, prevent violence, and improve reporting and response mechanisms by these actors, in partnership with governments, schools and teachers.
Addressing SRGBV will take efforts by all
Overall it was clear that to be effective, the efforts to curb and eliminate SRGBV must take a whole school approach, and needs political leadership across sectors, not just from ministries of education, as well as support and coordination by donors and civil society.
GPE will continue its work on this issue through its participation in the Global SRGBV Working Group and as a partner of the Safe to Learn campaign which is working to end violence in schools. We will highlight the importance of ending school-related gender-based violence through our work with the G7 gender equality advisory council, at the Women Deliver global conference, and at other key moments this year.
In addition, our forthcoming Knowledge and Innovation Exchange mechanism will fund cross sectoral work to strengthen gender equality results and tackle multi-faceted gender-related issues such as SRGBV.