Addressing School Related Gender-Based Violence

By Cassandra Hallett and Alex Davidson
June 13, 2014

Given the recent abduction of the 300 school girls in Nigeria, the writing of this article about school related gender-based violence is all too timely.

According to Education International (EI) and the United Nations Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI), “gender-based violence (GBV) is a fundamental violation of human rights. It is one of the worst manifestations of gender-based discrimination, disproportionately affecting girls and women, and a major obstacle to achieving gender equality.”[i] We have to agree.

In their joint statement concerning gender-based violence, UNGEI and EI explain that GBV is “a global phenomenon that knows no boundaries geographical, cultural, ethnic, economic or other.” School related gender-based violence (SRGBV) is further defined as, “acts or threats of sexual, physical or psychological violence occurring in or around schools and educational settings as a result of gender norms and unequal power dynamics between genders.” SRGBV includes acts of bullying, sexual or verbal harassment, non-consensual touching, rape and assault. SRGBV affects millions if not billions of children worldwide each year. Although it is true that both girls and boys can be targets of SRGBV, girls are known to be the most vulnerable.

CTF fully supports EI’s clear policy and guidelines concerning Gender Equal Quality Education[ii] and extends its pro-active focus on addressing gender equality and school related gender-based violence. CTF’s International Program engages CTF Member organizations and Canadian teachers as resource persons to support partner organizations striving to address gender equality through projects focused on girl-friendly schools, networks for women leaders, and more. The theme of the second EI World Women’s Conference, On the Move for Equality: From Words to Action,[iii] is very much in keeping with the support CTF’s International Program extends to teacher organizations in numerous countries.

Beverly Park and Lorna Kimugisha, graduate
of TAG in September 2003.

For instance, since 2003 CTF has been supporting the Uganda National Teachers Union (UNATU) in its Teachers’ Action for Girls (TAG) project. A focus on human rights was at the core in the development of TAG. As CTF’s International Program volunteer Beverley Park wrote in 2003, there was “a real fear of AIDS and HIV from defilement en route to and from school, and even at school (by fellow students, by workers affiliated with the school, and by teachers!); forced early marriage —girls as young as 13 married off by their parents so that they no longer have to support them; cruel and inhumane discipline practices which put girls at even greater risk of abuse; forced child-labour such as field work, begging and prostitution, to name a few.”

From the outset, as reflected in the name, the TAG program realized that the positive actions of teachers would be the key to change. It was understood that leadership from both male and female teachers would be necessary to dispel dysfunctional attitudes and harmful actions toward girls and education.

TAG began as a series of week-long workshops that toured the country and brought numerous teachers and girl students together with UNATU, civil society, police, and government agencies. During these week long events, rallies and marches were held in support of the girl child in school.

As a result, awareness was raised with regard to SRGBV, and individual schools throughout the country began to look for further support from UNATU. The program has grown and is now school-based with support for students, teachers and parents, and with the involvement of the school communities. As part of the program, a TAG Manual is used and all participating schools develop TAG Action Plans. TAG schools are safer and provide an inclusive learning environment that supports both girls and boys.

The success of TAG in Uganda has led to interest among other EI Teacher organizations in Africa. With CTF support and the involvement of EI’s Pan African Teachers’ Centre (PATC) and African Women in Education Network (AWEN), components of TAG are now being adapted and implemented in Togo and Sierra Leone.

[ii] EI policy includes “Gender Equal Quality Education”; here EI recognizes that gender-based discrimination and sexual violence lead many girls to drop out of school and shows its support for affiliates working towards eradicating such discrimination and violence so as to encourage greater school completion by girls. EI has further policy regarding “Equitable and Non-discriminatory Quality Education”; here EI recognizes that children from marginalized and excluded communities are particularly vulnerable to prejudice-related violence and bullying and posits that all education institutions must have strategies for combatting all forms of violence …”

Priority 2 in EI’s Gender Equality Action Plan is Girls’ Access to and Participation in Quality Public Education; within this priority are strategies for unions to promote equitable and inclusive pedagogical practices in policy development and to build strategic relationships with other key stakeholders engaged in progressive work on girls’ education.

Alex Davidson and et Cassandra Hallett are International program officers with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation

Canadian Teachers’ Federation
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Perspectives web magazine is published by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), a national alliance of provincial and territorial teacher organizations that represent over 273,000 elementary and secondary school teachers across Canada.

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