Violence in and around schools and other educational settings is one of the most significant barriers to achieving gender equality in and through education, and seriously undermines efforts to achieve SDG4 and SDG5 of Agenda 2030. This panel will comprise a dialogue between key stakeholders currently working on multi-level partnership initiatives to eliminate school-related gender-based violence(SRGBV). More than 246 million children experience gender-based violence in or around schools annually. This is a violation of their human rights, and a form of gender-discrimination that has far-reaching physical, psychological and educational consequences. Panelists will share experiences of supporting teachers, school leaders, students and communities to take action to end SRGBV. (Photo: Hedwig de la Fuente)
- Across the globe, the school environment is not safe and secure.
- Girls are dropping out of school in many developing countries because they do not feel safe.
- The silence on sexual abuse by students and teachers taking place in schools around the world needs to be broken.
- One option to improve the situation would be to link aid money to more efficient policies.
- A more holistic approach that involves everyone is needed.
School-related, gender-based violence poses a direct threat to schoolchildren, particularly teenage girls, preventing them from realising their full potential. Victims of such violence are unable to concentrate, which leads to poor learning, feeling unsafe and a lack of interest in attending school with girls dropping out. According to a 2017 report by UNESCO, 130 million girls around the world do not go to school for various reasons, with sexual abuse being one of them.
Girls (and also to a lesser extent boys) can be victims of sexual abuse on the way to school, at school by other students and teachers, and via Internet. The issue needs to be discussed more broadly, involving a wide range of stakeholders, including men and boys. It must include the development of laws and policies, prevention of violence before it happens and access to a package of essential services for victims. Comprehensive data collection and research would also be a big help in what is an under-reported issue.
Awareness is growing and the issue is climbing up the international agenda. The European Commission, for instance, has stepped up its work on gender-based violence. Everywhere, calls are growing for prevention programmes in educational institutions, improving the educational content and curricula, and gender-responsive pedagogy.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an excellent example of a joint policy agenda and a political commitment to end violence and ensure gender equality around the world. However, good policy is not enough. One of the problems that must be addressed is the issue of accountability, which can sometimes be blurred. Another problem is that conventions and agreements on gender are often non-binding. One way to ensure that efficient action and policies are put in place is to link development aid to the implementation of an effective policies on eliminating gender-based violence in schools.
Sexual abuse in schools remains a taboo subject and more needs to be done to bring it into the open. Ultimately, this is a societal problem and we need to establish a society that no longer accepts such behaviour. All stakeholders – governments, civil society, communities, teachers, parents and the media – must send a common message on what is acceptable behaviour.
A holistic, comprehensive approach needs to be taken in all countries. Teachers’ unions must be at the forefront of action on this issue and they need to see themselves as the vector for change by developing more gender-neutral attitudes, particularly in developing countries. Codes of conductmust be developed. Governments need to take a long-term approach, co-designed with NGOs, while communities have to ensure that the right mechanisms are in place to make people accountable for what they agreed to change.
Lastly, but not least, children must be given a voice so they can bring their reality to the attention of parents, teachers and community leaders. More also needs to be done to support and fund young activists and feminists.
The agenda of gender equality must become a priority. We need to recognize that sexual abuse is a manifestation of the imbalance of power between men and women This is the root of the problem. To change the gender dynamics, boys and men must be involved in the process every step of the way and be made more aware of what equality means. They must also be taught that sexual abuse has more serious consequences than they probably realise.
The taboo about discussing gender-based violence in schools is massive. We all need to be committed to breaking the silence and the media in particular has a big role to play in achieving this. NGOs and governments should also do more to involve the media.