Children in the Asia-Pacific region are being robbed of their ability to learn in a safe environment as a result of school-related, gender-based violence and current policy approaches do not adequately address the problem, according to a new study.
The review, “School-related gender-based violence [SRGBV] in the Asia-Pacific region”, was commissioned by Unesco Bangkok and implemented in partnership with the East Asia Pacific Regional UN Girls’ Education Initiative. It is the first such study and related policy and programming in Asia-Pacific.
Policy information and studies pertaining to SRGBV from most of the countries in the region were analysed in the review.
Violence against children in schools is a complex, multifaceted issue. It is closely linked to broader social norms around the acceptance of violence, deeply ingrained gender inequalities and rigid gender expectations.
SRGBV refers to violence affecting schoolchildren that occurs in or around educational settings and is perpetrated based on gender roles or norms, and expectations of children based on their sex or gender identities.
The review paints a disturbing picture of the extent and the effects of SRGBV in Asia-Pacific.
The most common forms of SRGBV in the region are corporal punishment, physical violence and abuse, psychosocial violence and abuse, bullying including cyber-bullying, and sexual violence and abuse.
SRGBV is driven by rigid constructs of femininity and masculinity as well as social expectations.
Many young people in the region who do not conform to these gender constructs face SRGBV.
Verbal and emotional abuse and social exclusion or discrimination are common and often characterised by verbal humiliation based on caste, status in society, gender identity or expression, or perceived sexual orientation, and disability.
Girls appear to be more likely to face psychological abuse, including discrimination and social exclusion, while boys are more vulnerable to physical attacks.
Those who are believed to be same-sex attracted or gender non-conforming are also subjected in many settings to psychosocial violence and abuse in multiple forms.
Corporal punishment is also a hugely prevalent form of SRGBV in the region, common even among countries that specifically outlaw the practice.
The effects of SRGBV could be devastating and long lasting.
“This report highlights that the experience, or even the threat, of SRGBV has detrimental educational outcomes,” said Justine Sass, chief of Unesco Bangkok’s HIV prevention and health promotion unit.
“This includes irregular attendance, dropout, truancy, poor school performance and low self-esteem – issues that may follow them into their adult lives.”
SRGBV is a disturbing violation of a child’s fundamental human rights and directly contravenes the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which all countries in the region have ratified and most have signed.
“A safe context for all girls and boys to learn is a fundamental human right. Anything less should never be accepted,” said Chemba Raghavan, regional focal point for the UN Girls’ Education Initiative in East Asia and the Pacific.
“UNGEI in East Asia and the Pacific, and globally, is committed to addressing all aspects of school-related, gender-based violence by advocating for change on behalf of children.”
The review found that existing policies in the region for the most part lack an evidence base, are fragmented in their approach and are heavily influenced by cultural and social gender stereotypes. Policies in the region boast “only a few successful results”.
The review ends with a call for countries to adopt the following steps to address the issue:
_ Review data and clearly articulate the problem of SRGBV
_ Establish mechanisms for comprehensive and integrated action and promote inter-sectoral coordination and collaboration
_ Develop and implement policies underpinned by robust evidence, and establish effective legislation and regulation mechanisms
_ Put in place mechanisms for a safe and effective reporting of, and response to, incidents of SRGBV
_ Train personnel within the education system and implement gender transformative teaching and learning mechanisms
_ Promote the principles of, and establish mechanisms to ensure, accountability and transparency and participation and inclusiveness in SRGBV prevention and response efforts