Young school girl smiling
Safe Blog

Back to school: COVID-19 and the opportunity to build safer learning environments

25th October 2021


  • Chrissy Hart
    Chrissy Hart

    Director of Policy & Advocacy; Regional Lead, Sub-Saharan Africa,
    Together for Girls

Understanding the relationship between schools, violence, and the pandemic

Over the past several years, Together for Girls has conducted secondary analyses of the Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS) to understand the prevalence, consequences, and gender-specific experiences of violence in and around schools.

This work was done in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and AidData with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Global Affairs Canada.

What do we know about the risks COVID-19 poses to children, adolescents, and youth so far?

We recently published COVID-19 and the opportunity to build safer learning environments.

This brief presenting findings from our research on violence and schools, implications for school violence as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and recommendations and resources for policymakers, practitioners, advocates, and civil society focused on understanding school violence, its gendered characteristics, and tools and solutions for creating safer school environments.

COVID-19 and the Opportunity to Build Safer Learning Environments

Violence by teachers and classmates was widespread prior to the COVID-19 pandemic

Our research shows that across the globe, many students experience school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV). School-related gender-based violence includes any act or threat 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.

Our research also reveals that students who experience school-related gender-based violence and other forms of violence in and around schools are not getting the support and services they need.

Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) data illustrates the relationship between education and gender norms

Gender unequal norms and attitudes that condone violence drive gender-based violence in and around schools. However, Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) data show that these attitudes are less common among those who complete more years of education.

Our research underscores the opportunity that school environments provide to interrupt gender unequal attitudes, the norms that condone violence, and to ultimately prevent gender-based violence — and in doing so — improve educational, health, and economic outcomes for students, particularly adolescent girls.

Secondary education can play a role in reducing the likelihood of girls experiences intimate partner violence, becoming pregnant, and experiencing early and forced marriage.

Where do we go from here?

Amidst the pandemic-driven crises for quality education and violence against children lies an opportunity: the COVID-19 pandemic upended education systems around the world, but in rebuilding from the pandemic we have a unique opportunity to create better schools, ensuring that every student is safe from the virus and from violence.

Implications for educators, policymakers, advocates and researchers

Violence prevention and response is an education sector issue: Violence prevention should not be siloed. The consequences of students experiencing violence are profound: violence impacts learners’ access to education, educational outcomes, and well-being. Policymakers, administrators, and educators must prioritize school-based violence prevention and violence response efforts should be integrated into COVID-19 recovery planning.

The effort to prevent and address school-related gender-based violence must be informed by high quality data and evidence: Despite the growing awareness of the prevalence of school-related gender-based violence, there is currently not a standard measurement to precisely and accurately assess the prevalence and extent of school-related gender-based violence globally. Additionally, national-level data may not reflect the specific context, including risk factors and drivers, in a particular geographic area.

Violence prevention efforts should take a whole-school approach to creating safe environments: Educators and policymakers should use an evidence-based, whole-school, and gender transformative approach to creating safe, equitable, and enabling environments for students.


*To learn about attitudes toward gender, survey respondents were asked if they believed a series of questions about gender roles, such as “only men, not women, should decide when to have sex” or “a woman should tolerate violence to keep her family together”

**Statistically significant difference between those who completed primary school or less and those who attended or completed secondary school or more

†Data among 14-24 year-olds Lesotho