Corporal punishment is the most widespread form of violence against children and youth globally. Early interventions are key to promoting gender equitable social norms
Social norms drive gender inequalities and violence, and even though access to education is a human right, students across the globe are impacted by school-related gender-based violence.
Schools are microcosms of society that can either mirror and reinforce or challenge gender-discriminatory attitudes and social norms. While students may come to school exposed to norms that condone violence and promote gender inequality, schools have the potential to serve as venues for positive social change.
Findings from recently completed secondary analyses of the Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS) revealed that students’ experiences of corporal punishment by teachers varied based on the sex of both the teacher and the student.
While both girls and boys experience physical violence as a form of punishment, they may suffer specific types of punishment based largely on their gender. For girls, corporal punishment can be a means to control their behavior, encourage submission and timidity, and to reinforce traditional gender roles. In turn, male teachers are often more violent toward male students, overall, reinforcing society-wide gendered dynamics of violence and its association with masculinity.
The variations in experiences and use of corporal punishment by gender suggest that other intersecting identity factors, including sexual orientation and gender diversity, disability, racial and ethnic identity, and socioeconomic status should be further studied.
Secondary analyses of 12 national Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS) were conducted to better understand the experiences of children and young people who attended school with respect to violence in and around school settings, particularly school-related gender-based violence.
The 12 Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS) found the following:
Corporal punishment negatively impacts students’ participation in school and educational outcomes. Because schools play such a significant role in children’s development and socialization, they are a critical venue for social change and addressing social norms around violence and gender equality.
These findings indicate that those with a secondary school are less likely to agree with corporal punishment and other forms of violence, affirming the role of schools in the adoption or rejection of harmful social norms.
Corporal punishment is the most widespread form of violence against children and youth, globally. It has devastating consequences for every aspect of a child’s physical and psychological development. While prohibitions against corporal punishment in schools are common, the prevalence of violent discipline remains widespread, and likely underestimated. The 2016 UNICEF Young Lives 4-country, cross-regional study found that children reported fear of violence as the single most common reason for disliking school.
Together for Girls conducted this research with AidData – A Research Lab at the College of William & Mary and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with support from USAID’S Higher Education Solutions Network and Global Affairs Canada. Contributing partners include the End Corporal Punishment team at the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, UNGEI, and USAID.
COVID-19 exacerbated the inequitable educational access for almost 2 billion school-age children worldwide. As a result, as many as 20 million girls never returned to school. As recovery efforts roll out, there is an imperative opportunity to build back better. Educators must understand how the gendered nature of corporal punishment reinforces generational cycles of violence. In doing so we can ensure that all children return to schools that provide safe, positive learning environments.