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Rally for Safe Schools: Experts gather to discuss gender-related school-based violence

©Ikenna Acholonu/2015

New York, 10 March 2015 - A panel of top education and development experts ‘rallied’ today at UNICEF headquarters to draw attention to a worldwide problem that threatens children’s right to education: school-related gender-based violence. The event, Rallying to End School-related Gender-based Violence, was a side event of the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which is being held from 9 to 20 March at United Nations headquarters in New York.

The rally was organized by the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), Education for All Global Monitoring Report (EFA GMR), the United Nations’ Global Education First Initiative (GEFI), Plan International, UNICEF and UNESCO. The event provided an opportunity for speakers to present evidence on school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) and place it in context of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Let me say how important it is, as we stand at the beginning of the SDGs, that we realize we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to get every girl into school safely and that we have practical doable solutions to do so,” said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Director of Programmes.

Though evidence on SRGBV is incomplete, Plan International estimates that 246 million boys and girls suffer school-related violence annually. The violence ranges from bullying, the most common form, to severe sexual assault and rape. Boys and girls can be victims or perpetrators of SRGBV.

The event today started with a panel discussion that, in addition to Chaiban, featured Kandia Kamara, Minister of Education from Côte d'Ivoire, Patience Stephens, Special Advisor on Education from UN Women, and Maki Hayashikawa, Education Specialist, UNESCO.

The programme also included the launch of a policy brief by GMR, UNESCO and UNGEI. The brief outlined evidence, knowledge gaps and recommendations. Plan International also presented reports that provided global evidence on SRGBV including Hear Our Voices, which featured interviews of 7,000 adolescent girls and boys in 11 countries.

The event concluded with a technical discussion with Fanny Gazagne, Education Policy Advisor in France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Changu Mannathoko, Senior Education Advisor from UNICEF, Rossana Viteri, Country Director of Plan Ecuador, and Joseph Munyambanza of GEFI’s Youth Advocacy Group.

“School-related gender-based violence is both a violation of human rights and violation of the right to education, especially for girls,” Gazagne said.

The Commission on the Status of Women gatherings this year are dedicated to assessing progress since the ratification of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a landmark agreement on gender equality and women’s rights. Though the declaration acknowledges the problems of gender-based violence including sexual harassment in schools and calls for measures to eliminate all violence against women and girls, it does not specifically mention SRGBV. Indeed, SRGBV has only recently been recognized as a specific problem requiring targeted solutions.

In the policy brief launched today defined SRGBV as “acts or threats of sexual, physical or psychological violence occurring in and around schools, perpetrated as a result of gender norms and stereotypes, and enforced by unequal power dynamics.” SRGBV can include threats, acts of physical violence, bullying, verbal or sexual harassment, non-consensual touching, sexual coercion, assault and rape.

The policy brief also says that gender inequality and social norms underpin violence in schools. It also reports that poverty, war and conflict, and ethnic discrimination can make a child more vulnerable to SRGBV.

Many speakers also talked about how complex SRGBV can be and how combatting it requires coordinated and cross-sectoral cooperation.

Young people are also an important part of the solution, said Munyambanza, who spoke of his experiences attending school at a refugee camp in The Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“It is very important for us to know that young people are capable of advocating for themselves,” Munyambanza said. “One of the things we should do is support the young people who are trying to solve the problem.”

Though research on SRGBV is limited, there are some figures. For example:

  • A study in France reported that 40 per cent of students had experienced cyberbullying.

  • In South Africa, a recent national survey found that 8 per cent of girls had been severely sexually assaulted or raped in the previous year.

  • In Cameroon, 30 per cent of sexual violence experienced by schoolgirls was committed by male students.

  • A study in the Netherlands found 27 per cent of students had been sexually harassed by school personnel.

Throughout the event, speakers called for more research on SRGBV as a means to highlight the problem and enact solutions tailored to the needs of children, especially the most vulnerable.

Key messages from the GMR, UNESCO and UNGEI policy paper

Plan International findings from 'Hear our Voices'

Watch the event here:



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