A Critical Analysis of Gender Violence and Inequality in and Around Schools in South Africa in the Age of Aids: Progress or Retreat?
South Africa stands out as having a strong commitment to gender equality in political, social and economic life. It is signatory to several regional and global treaties and policy frameworks targeting gender inequality in all spheres of life, as well as in education. These include global frameworks such as the Millennium Development Goals and the Beijing Platform for Action, as well as African agreements such as the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development and the AU Second Decade of Action of Education. South Africa also has a strong policy framework for gender equality in education, with policies founded on commitments to equity and human rights in education. While the country has made huge strides in enrolling girls in primary education specifically, but with high gender parity indexes at all levels, the sustained participation of girls in the education system, and in particular the poor quality of their educational experience, affecting access and participation, remains an area requiring investigation. One of the most pervasive reasons for the poor participation and low success of girls in the schooling system is gender inequality, and in particular, its manifestations in violence against girls and women, and the consequent developmental problems including health (most notably HIV infections and reproductive health). In addition, social problems such as socio economic conditions in families and communities and the HIV epidemic, have a significant impact on girls’ experiences of school. In 2001, the Human Rights Watch report, “Scared at School” noted above reported high levels of sexual violence in South African schools. Almost ten years later, this paper explores the progress we have made in addressing the challenges raised in this and other reports.
The paper is divided into three sections: The first section of the paper considers the extensive research-base produced over the last decade in South Africa that documents gender violence and inequalities in and around schools. In particular, this section seeks to contextualize socially and historically the confounding discourses of gender based violence and the gendered face of HIV&AIDS in relation to South African girlhood in the age of AIDS. Using a mapping framework according to the various sectors, methods, foci and recommended strategies of the different studies and reports, this section is meant to situate the ‘progress or retreat?’ question we pose in the paper.