Building safer schools, providing students with a brighter future

Article Date

04 December 2015

Article Author

Nandita Bhatla

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

Today marks the 9th day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, a global campaign that seeks to tackle violence around the world. The theme of this year is education, which, to me, highlights just how important education is as a tool to prevent violence, but also reminds us that violence in and around schools affect girls’ and boys’ ability to access safe, quality education that sets them on a path for success for the rest of their lives.


David Snyder/ICRW

Education is critical to providing girls and boys the opportunity to lead productive lives, empowered by what they learn and the skills they gain. Equally important, is that education and educational institutions also teach values, beliefs and behaviors that shape boys’ and girls’ thoughts and actions in subtle, yet definitive ways.

And while schools are critical places to grow and learn, they are also often places where discriminatory and violent behavior not only occurs, but is reinforced, either because of biased attitudes or by the lack of action by those in charge, such as teachers or counselors. This violence hinders students’ ability to recognize and deal with such behavior and normalizes the presences of violence; so that students who witness violence often reproduce those same patterns of violence themselves. And while violence is a problem in and of itself, violence also affects students’ ability to get an education, as children who face violence typically have a harder time paying attention and/or attending school. Indeed, many boys and girls drop out of school due to such adverse experiences in and on the way to schools, losing out on a lifetime of learning.

The violence described above is known as school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) and is defined as all forms of violence, including fear of violence that occurs in education contexts, in school, around school, and on the way to school.

A recent report, released by ICRW and Plan International, documented the prevalence of SRGBV across five Asian countries: Cambodia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nepal and Vietnam. For the study, ICRW interviewed more than 9,000 sixth, seventh and eighth grade students, teachers, principals and parents to better understand how prevalent violence is in and around schools, to understand how parents and teachers respond to violence, and to lay out recommendations to begin to tackle SRGBV so that children can access schools safely.IMG_1631

According to our findings, a lack of safety in school remains a big concern for students in all countries except for Pakistan, with both boys and girls equally feeling unsafe in schools. Students cite every day practices, such as abusive language, offensive photos drawn on walls, and frequent fights, bullying and harassment as the most prevalent forms of SRGBV that make them feel unsafe. Students cited nearly every inch of school property as unsafe, including classrooms, school corridors, playgrounds, lunch room, library, secluded rooms and even in bathrooms.

All forms of violence were found to be common, but students’ responses to sexual violence were particularly poignant. The prevalence of sexual violence ranged from two percent in Cambodia to 19 percent in Indonesia, and is reported by both boys and girls. Boys, however, are less likely than girls to report such instances, which could be because teachers are often dismissive about the possibility that boys can be sexually abused.

The research shows, in short, that adolescents in these five countries are growing up in extremely violent contexts.  Within schools, approximately seven out of every ten children surveyed had experienced some form of violence in the six months preceding the study, with the exception of Pakistan, where closer to three in ten students reported experiencing violence. This includes different forms of violence perpetrated by teaching/non-teaching staff, as well as peers. The proportion of girls and boys who reported violence on the way to school had more variation across countries. More than half of students experienced some form of violence on the way to school in the past six months in Cambodia, Nepal and Indonesia.


David Snyder/ICRW

These results show that unfortunately, violence is indeed common and accepted by parents, teachers, and even students themselves. The good news is that we know what works to begin to dismantle violent behavior. In order to ensure schools are safe places to learn, we must engage in a series of steps to start to challenge violence and the acceptance of violent behavior so that schools can become safe spaces for students to learn and grow.

We can start by ensuring that gender transformative programming includes both boys and girls to encourage change in individual attitudes and behaviors. Next, schools must work to create an open dialogue between parents and teachers, so issues around violent behavior can be bought to the forefront if and when instances of violence do arise, nipping any problems in the bud. Further, we must work to identify specific infrastructure changes that can contribute to enhanced safety in schools, such as clean and functional separate toilets for boys and girls located in different parts of the school, a greater presence of security guards, and counseling rooms. Additionally, because we know that schools are not gender neutral places and stereotypes around appropriate roles for each gender abound, countries should complete a comprehensive review of all education-related policies so they can begin to include gender equality and the prevention of gender-based violence in policies and operational plans. And finally, teachers must be equipped with specific skills to recognize violent behavior and to respond to that behavior through formal mechanisms within schools.

These are just a few of the steps that ICRW and Plan International recommended in order to make schools safer places for boys and girls.

Throughout this 16 Days of Activism, ICRW is joining with other organizations from around the world to add our voice to the call for a world where no woman, girl, man, or boy, experiences violence no matter where they live and what they’re doing. This, unequivocally, includes a call for a world where violence no longer prevents girls and boys from getting the education they deserve, giving them the opportunity to fulfill their aspirations for a life that is equal, filled with respect, and free from fear.