Education union leaders in east and southern Africa meet to kick-off a new initiative on school-related gender-based violence to eliminate the threat to girls and women in their societies.
A meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, from 21-22 April, brought together the General Secretaries of Education International (EI)’s affiliates, the Basic Education Teachers’ Union of Zambia (BETUZ), the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association (ETA), the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT), the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (NAPTOSA), the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU), the Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU) and the Zambia National Union of Teachers (ZNUT).
These seven unions will take part in the new initiative jointly developed by EI and the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), Education Unions Take Action to End School-Related Gender-Based Violence (SRGBV).
A major barrier to girls’ education
School-related gender-based violence is a global concern preventing millions of children and adolescents worldwide from exercising their right to a safe, inclusive and quality education. Students, educators and education support personnel alike can be both victims and perpetrators of SRGBV. While men and women, girls and boys are involved, girls and women are most vulnerable to this type of violence.
Although a growing number of development actors are working to address SRGBV, education unions have been largely absent from these efforts. Educators and their trade unions are clearly key actors in meaningful school and community-based multi-stakeholder plans, actions and policies to eliminate SRGBV.
In his opening remarks, Wilson Sossion, Secretary General of KNUT and Chair of the EI African Regional Committee remarked that “SRGBV is a threat to girls in our societies”.
He added that unions have “a high responsibility to the community and must stand together in order to completely eradicate such violence,” and “for sustainable coexistence to be achieved, unions should not just be content with deceleration or minimisation of it”.
Education unions take action to end SRGBV
This is a first of its kind initiative aimed at implementing the 2015 EI resolution on SRGBV, with funding secured from the Government of Canada (Global Affairs Canada). The initiative is designed to enhance the capacities of the participating unions and their members to engage in the struggle to end SRGBV, by systematically testing, replicating and disseminating innovative approaches at multiple levels within their respective contexts.
UNGEI’s technical partners, Gender at Work, will guide the unions in the application of the action learning methodology. Action learning is an approach that enables groups to find new solutions to complex problems. It was initially developed by scientists, later adopted by the private sector and now practiced by public sector and non-profit organisations around the world. Gender at Work has designed and implemented action learning processes with over 50 organisations across Africa, including extensive work with several large trade unions in South Africa.
The seven east and southern African unions will go through the SRGBV action learning process over an 18-month period (ending October 2017).
Staff responsible for the seven unions’ work on gender equality also participated in the meeting, as did the EI Chief Regional Coordinator, Mme Assibi Napoe, Nora Fyles, UNGEI’s Head of Secretariat and associates from Gender at Work.
From words to action
The EI resolution on school-related gender-based violence was unanimously adopted at the 7th EI World Congress in Ottawa, July 2015, by which EI member organisations affirm that ‘it is not possible to deliver quality education without addressing the issues of child protection and staff safety in educational settings, as well as on the way to educational settings, given that young children, women and LGBT persons are particularly vulnerable’. Affiliates also expressed their concern that SRGBV was ‘a key barrier to the achievement of the MDGs and the EFA goals, and, unless serious efforts are made to eliminate SRGBV, will also continue to be a barrier post-2015’.
The EI Executive Board is, therefore, mandated under the resolution to ‘collaborate with UN agencies and other strategic civil society partners working on SRGBV issues at national, regional and global levels to ensure that that the knowledge, experiences and perspectives of teachers, educators and education support personnel consistently informs and is reflected in such work’.