School-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) is a phenomenon that affects millions of children, families and communities. It occurs in all countries in the world and cuts across cultural, geographic and economic differences in societies. SRGBV can be defined as acts or threats 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. In every country and region of the world where SRGBV has been studied, incidents have been reported yet data remains limited in terms of both coverage and scope. Along with the lack of understanding that surrounds the concept and the sensitive nature of the issues, this impedes efforts at mounting an appropriate response.
SRGBV violates children’s fundamental human rights and is a form of gender discrimination. Children have the right to be protected from all forms of violence, including in their school lives. Experiencing SRGBV can compromise a child’s well-being, their physical and emotional health, as well as harming their cognitive and emotional development. Evidence suggests that SRGBV can also have long-term and far-reaching consequences for young people who have witnessed such violence, as they may grow up to repeat the behaviour that they have ‘learned’ and to regard it as acceptable.
In 2014, a Global Working Group to End SRGBV was established under the leadership of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to bring together a wide range of partners committed to ending gender-based violence (GBV) in and around schools.
The group identified a series of priority actions that would help to shift the local, national and global response to SRGBV. This included acknowledging the need to draw together lessons and good practices to inform a set of strategic recommendations for expanded efforts. Under the leadership of UNESCO, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Inter-Agency Task Team (IATT) on Education and School Health and UN Women, together with an advisory group of key stakeholders drawn from the Working Group, this global guidance was commissioned to provide a crucial SRGBV resource aimed specifically at ministries of education and education stakeholders.
SRGBV is complex and multifaceted. The root causes do not lie in any one culture, tradition or institution, but in the wider structural issues, social norms and deep-rooted beliefs and behaviours and daily practices that shape gender and authority.
A robust response to SRGBV requires careful analysis to reveal appropriate starting points for strengthening prevention and response within each context. While no minimum or basic package of interventions is recommended in this guidance, several strategic areas are identified, drawing on the evidence-informed recommendations of key policy reports, such as Plan’s A girl’s right to learn without fear (Greene et al, 2013) and the World Report on Violence against Children (Pinheiro, 2006).
SRGBV must be incorporated into national policies and action plans that recognize the need for prevention, responses to mitigate against impact, and accountability. Commitment and effective leadership from national governments are a necessary starting point for achieving these objectives. Governments should demonstrate leadership at the national and local levels by developing and implementing laws and policies on SRGBV; strengthening connections between education and child protection systems; and applying system-wide review and reforms to ensure that state education institutions comprehensively address SRGBV. (See Section 2.1 on Leadership: Laws, policies and education reform.)
Fundamental to how SRGBV is addressed in schools is the quality of the environment in which teaching and learning, working and studying all take place. Whole-school approaches are needed to make schools safer, more learner-centred and a better environment for children to learn. Such approaches are implemented by governing bodies and school management in partnership with the wider school community. Whole-school approaches aim to create safe and welcoming spaces, promoting strong messages that SRGBV is not acceptable and enforcing codes of conduct that detail the recognized ethical norms and standards of behaviour for all school staff, and potentially also students and their parents. (See Section 2.2 on Environment: Ensuring schools are safe and supportive.)
Education has a key role to play in transforming the root causes of violence, and especially GBV. Education is an important mechanism for the social, emotional and psychological development of young people. This is as critical as the development of systems and policies to address SRGBV. What students are taught and how they are taught is essential to preventing SRGBV. Curricula to prevent violence and promote gender equality, training education staff to give them the tools to prevent and respond to SRGBV and establishing safe spaces where co-curricular interventions can be used as an entry point for addressing SRGBV all contribute to educational content and delivery mechanisms for SRGBV prevention. (See Section 2.3 on Prevention: Curriculum, teaching and learning.)
When SRGBV does occur, there should be clear, safe and accessible procedures and mechanisms in place for reporting incidents, assisting victims and referring cases to the appropriate authorities. Responses to SRGBV should ensure the availability of easily-accessible, child-sensitive and confidential reporting mechanisms, healthcare services including counselling and support, and referral to law enforcement. (See Section 2.4 on Responses: In and around schools.)
Addressing a complex issue such as SRGBV in a way that will bring about sustainable change requires collaborating with, and engaging key stakeholders in strategic partnerships. Coordination across all levels is needed to understand the perspectives of these different stakeholders, what constrains and enables them to act and what support, training and resources they need. Other government sectors, teachers’ unions, communities, families and youth are just some of the stakeholders of the education sector that need to be engaged. (See Section 2.5 on Partnership: Collaborating with and engaging key stakeholders.)
National action on SRGBV should be informed by research and data. Investing in monitoring, evaluation and research on SRGBV allows programmes to be clear about their aims and monitor progress towards addressing the issue, while providing greater accountability and transparency of these programmes. A clear monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework, relevant and feasible indicators and comprehensive national data collection systems can help programmes to understand what is changing as it happens and therefore improve SRGBV policy-making and resource mobilization. (See Section 2.6 on Evidence: Monitoring and evaluation of SRGBV.)
In implementing these various strategies, pace, direction and starting points all need careful consideration. This guidance aims to provide a comprehensive, one-stop resource including clear, knowledge-based operational guidance; diverse case studies and illustrative examples of implementation in real contexts; and, recommended tools and resources that have been successfully used and can be adapted for application in different contexts. It distils programme knowledge that is based on existing global literature, promising practices, expert recommendations and practitioner consensus.
The primary audience for this guidance is national education sectors, including government policy-makers, education ministries, school administrators, educators and other school staff. The guidance may also have wider interest for other national and international stakeholders that are interested in addressing SRGBV, including NGOs, bilateral and multilateral agencies, teachers’ trade unions and policy-makers in other domestic sectors. It is intended primarily for use in low- and middle-income settings, but is based on norms and principles that are universally applicable.
This guidance complements other existing tools and materials for specific bilateral, multilateral and NGO audiences on violence against women and girls, and violence in schools.