Data-driven advocacy for safe and gender equitable schools

“Social Responsibility within Changing Contexts” was the 2021 conference theme for the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES). As the world’s oldest society of its kind, CIES is dedicated to increasing understanding of educational issues, trends, and policies through comparative, intercultural, and international perspectives. Together for Girls was a panel member for CIES 2021 along with UNESCO, UNGEI, USAID, FAWE. This is a synopsis of their panel, “Safe and Gender Equitable Schools: Utilizing data to catalyze advocacy and action on SRGBV and barriers to girls’ education”.

How can we measure and understand SRGBV? What does the evidence from promising interventions tell us? How does this all impact our data- and evidence-informed advocacy efforts?

The public health crisis caused by COVID-19 has re-shaped the landscape of education policy-making and programming.

 

For many students, interrupted learning opportunities and mandatory quarantine have been accompanied by a greater risk of violence in the home. There have been increased calls to national child helplines and more emergency room admittances of children with severe injuries requiring hospitalization. All of this is on top of widespread underreporting of violence against children. Available data and experiences from previous public health and humanitarian emergencies suggest that children have been at greater risk of experiencing violence in the midst of the global public health crisis. 

What is school-related gender-based violence?

School-Related Gender-Based Violence (SRGBV) is any act or threat of physical, psychological, and sexual violence in and around school, perpetuated as a result of gender norms and stereotypes, and enforced by unequal power dynamics. SRGBV affects both students and teachers and is exacerbated by factors of inequality – poverty, race and ethnicity, social status, disability status, and gender identity.

An increased prevalence of violence outside of schools – at home, online, and in the community – during school closures has impacted children and youth who we know have also faced and experienced violence in and around school settings.

A culture of silence

Although reported from every country and region of the world where it has been studied, the true scale and impact of SRGBV remains largely hidden. Acts of verbal abuse, corporal punishment, bullying, sexual harassment and abuse can be inter-related and driven by similar factors of gender socialization, exclusion, and childhood experiences of violence and neglect. 

 

Several factors might be at the root of the issue: social and gender norms and values that stigmatize victims of violence; institutions such as schools mirror and often maintain inequalities; power structures which keep certain forms of violence hidden and maintain a culture of silence. However, systematic data about the different forms of gender-based violence that occur in and around schools do not exist in a way that is broadly globally comparable, and which can direct policy and programmatic responses effectively.

The link between SRGBV and negative learning outcomes

The existing evidence-base on the nature and prevalence of SRGBV, and effective interventions to prevent it, are insufficient. A dearth of consensus on the impact of SRGBV remains a challenge for education and gender equality advocates, practitioners, and policymakers alike. However, existing research does suggest a relationship between experiences of SRGBV and learning outcomes, absenteeism, and retention. 

 

Additionally, there exists enough data across settings to compel action. This data elucidates the short- and longer-term consequences of the impacts on children and youth who witness and experience violence–including gendered violence.

 

There is an imperative to not only ensure school environments are safe, but to leverage educational settings to address and transform the social norms that drive violence.  In turn, there is an urgent need to understand effective interventions to address SRGBV, both to facilitate the scale up of approaches that work and, in concert with prevalence and impact data, to inform effective advocacy. 

Findings from the secondary analyses revealed that students’ experiences of corporal punishment by teachers varied across countries and based on the sex of both the teacher and the student. Our findings suggest that teacher-perpetrated corporal punishment is often gendered. In most countries with a high prevalence of corporal punishment by teachers, male students report significantly higher levels of violence by male teachers, compared to female students.

CIES 2021

Each panel member for this CIES session, “Safe and Gender Equitable Schools: Utilizing data to catalyze advocacy and action on SRGBV and barriers to girls’ education”, led on a specific topic:

 

-Together for Girls: How to better understand SRGBV? And how to better understand the impact of gender-based violence on girls’ educational outcomes? Findings from our secondary analyses of the Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS) cover a dozen countries across sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. 

 

-UNESCO on behalf of the Global Working Group to End SRGBV: What are the outcomes so far of their curriculum-based approach to prevent school-related gender-based violence? See quantitative and qualitative data from the piloting and evaluation of Connect with Respect (CwR). Over the past two years, CwR has been adapted and piloted in five countries in the Asia-Pacific and Eastern and Southern Africa Regions. 

 

-UNGEI on behalf of  the Global Working Group to End SRGBV: What is the rationale and proposed process to develop a theoretical framework for measuring SRGBV? There is the need for global prevalence estimates on SRGBV that are based on existing indicators/data. This work builds on the working group’s concerted efforts  to better understand and define SRGBV over 5+ years of collective research and advocacy.

 

-USAID: How to measure all forms of SRGBV— specifically, bullying, corporal punishment, and sexual violence? Their new SRGBV Measurement Toolkit is intended as a resource for researchers interested in understanding the prevalence and extent of SRGBV, and in learning more about potential risk factors and drivers of SRGBV within the local context.

 

-The Forum for African Women Educationalists: What can we learn from using data and evidence to address barriers to girls’ education? Data has shaped program development, implementation, and evaluation on key national and regional programs and policies in Africa addressing SRGBV. Innovations such as the Gender Responsive Pedagogy toolkit for teachers and schools have contributed to the reduction of SRGBV in school environments.

 

The secondary analyses of the VACS data also highlighted a strong need to address the gendered reality of corporal punishment in schools. Find out more about the intersections between gender, corporal punishment, and its consequences.