Gender-based violence in schools came under the spotlight during International Day of the Girl Child events organised earlier this month in Paris by France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Plan International France.
The discussion marked the 3rd International Day of the Girl Child on 11 Oct. and included contributions from UNSA Education, one of Education International’s (EI) national affiliates in France.
“One of the main barriers to access to school is the violence that girls suffer in schools and the violence remains invisible,” said French Minister of State for Development and Francophony Annick Girardin. Gender-based violence in schools is difficult to identify because of the taboo and silence surrounding it.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs aims to make girls' right to quality education a priority on the post-2015 international development agenda. France has been dealing with the issue of violence in schools for many years as it is one of the main barriers to education for girls and certain boys, she stated.
“It will be 2072 before girls are finally able to read if we do not act now,” declared UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. “Let us mobilise now.”
Violent incidents must be recorded
Three barriers to education for girls were identified during the event: gender-based violence and violence on the way to school, forced marriages, and economic obstacles.
In order to be rid of gender-based violence and its consequences, such as early school leaving, kidnappings, and forced marriages, the speakers, education ministers of the countries represented at the event, advocated that its occurrences be recorded. Unfortunately, there are few quantified reports because of the silence surrounding it.
Ways of fighting against gender-based violence were discussed, including:
- Prioritising the education of girls, following in the footsteps of Burkina Faso which made it a “national super priority”, by assigning the same budget to national education as that assigned to other departments
- Revising programmes and books, informing and training teachers, strengthening teachers' unions' capabilities both overall and at regional level
- Simplifying recognition procedures for children because, for instance, a birth certificate is necessary in order to be allowed to sit the exams for obtaining a diploma. However, the formalities are taken care of by often illiterate mothers who do not understand the importance of such a document, which requires travelling for several hours to obtain
- Translating, in the signatory countries, the international texts so that the rights of all are known and understood
All parties must be involved
The participants all agreed that impunity must not be allowed to spread. Moreover, for these global policies and actions to be accepted and to become efficient, all players, mainly at local level, must be involved in the fight for and protection of the rights of girls and children. Those players include teachers and their unions, parents, the children and students themselves, and religious leaders.
Many actions have already yielded positive results. In particular, women mentors in communities act as tutors and support girls in their schooling. These mentors collect the testimonies of young girls and intervene in order to help put an end to gender-based violence.
It was also stressed that the prevention of gender-based violence in schools is a struggle over the very long term. Schoolbooks need to be revised because they stereotype women – depicting women as nurses rather than doctors, for instance. And textbooks must raise awareness about gender-based violence perpetrated against girls and certain boys.
“When a little girl goes to school until the age of twelve, she is earning her freedom and her independence,” stated Hélène Hemet, National Secretary for International Relations at UNSA Education. “So let us not wait until 2072 for this necessary right to become a universal reality. As long as there is no equality in schools, there will be no equality between women and men.”
EI: Educational establishments must be havens of peace
EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen stressed that “educational establishments must be havens of peace and places where everyone, both teachers and students, must be able to feel safe in teaching and learning, regardless of their gender, their civil status, their sexual orientation, their age, their religion, their political opinions, their social or economic status, or their national or ethnic origin.”
The article relating to this panel discussion on the UNSA Education website can be read here.
A Storify document is available here.