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Community mobilization

Why work with communities on SRGBV?

Working with communities on SRGBV helps to raise awareness and ‘break the silence’ around this issue, as well as providing an important mobilizing platform for advocacy initiatives. Awareness-raising, mobilizing and advocacy are critical to challenging and shifting social norms that promote or tolerate violence. Community-based programming supports engagement with a wider group of relevant and influential stakeholders within broader school and community networks, in addition to providing practical links to, and information on, referral and support services.

Community mobilization has been important in designing and implementing protective measures for ensuring children’s safety in and on the way to/from schools, particularly where girls’ education is politicized and ‘under attack’ (GCPEA, 2014). It can provide a platform to engage with hard-to-reach/out-of-school children and young people, some of whom may have experienced SRGBV and may have been subsequently excluded from accessing an education. Community mobilization has also enabled engagement with men and boys in their multiple roles – as fathers, teachers and as community and religious and traditional leaders, to name just a few of the roles that men play – to shift social norms around masculinity and challenge harmful gender norms that lead to discrimination, inequality and violence.

Strategies for effective community mobilization can build on existing community capacities, including community based child protection mechanisms that are already run and owned by the community and are working within the community to protect children and raise awareness of child abuse and violence against children.

One example of a community mobilization approach whose evaluation has demonstrated clear results in responding to school-based violence is the implementation of the Good School Toolkit by the not-for-profit organization Raising Voices in Uganda. Used in 600 schools in Uganda, the Good School Toolkit aims to: develop a collective vision for the school; create a nurturing learning environment; implement a more progressive learning methodology; and strengthen school governance. By engaging with teachers, students, administration and the community, the implementation of the toolkit shapes the culture of the school through a six-step process. The initiative is implemented by teachers and students, endorsed and monitored by local officials and supported by parents and a wider team of community members. Study findings on the impact of the implementing the toolkit are summarized in the country example in section 2.6 of this guidance on evidence.

 Country examplesHow to work with communities on SRGBV?

Raising awareness at community level

Nigeria: ActionAid’s Transforming Education for Girls in Nigeria (TEGIN) used weekly ‘Community Circles’ to conduct awareness-raising activities, including planning marches and high-profile events around violence against women and girls and to mark international days of celebration. Some of these circles involved traditional leaders and elders, leading to ‘considerable (and unexpected) change in the community’s attitude and behaviour’ (Leach et al, 2013, p. 42).

India: There are several campaigns in India aimed at raising awareness of violence, gender and discrimination in schools. For example, the activist group Must Bol launched an online campaign Got Stared At to encourage young people to speak about sexual harassment and gender issues. The campaign includes violence awareness workshops with students and children in education settings. The workshops offer a safe space for male and female students to discuss different types of violence and their own experiences. There is some evidence that the campaign and workshops have raised awareness and led to improved understanding between peers about sexual harassment (UNESCO, 2014).  

Indonesia: In 2012, the Five Fingers campaign (also known as Gerakan Lima Jari to say ‘No’) was launched with young people to prevent gender-based violence, especially in school settings. The campaign was developed by the PULIH Centre for Trauma Recovery and Psychosocial Empowerment in collaboration with UN Women. It includes press conferences with youth ambassadors, student posters and photography, ‘happening’ art contests, print and radio promotions, and roadshows to schools and universities. The campaign has used Twitter and Facebook for outreach on campaign events, but also to spread information on dating violence and services available for survivors (UNESCO, 2014).  

Nicaragua: Puntos de Encuentro implemented an edutainment (education + entertainment) strategy Somos Diferentes, Somos Iguales (SDSI) or ‘We are Different, We are the Same’ to raise awareness about gender inequalities. It included Sexto Sentido (20012005) a weekly TV soap opera addressing violence and relationship issues, and Sexto Sentido Radio, a nightly youth call-in talk radio broadcast live and simultaneously on six commercial radio stations. The TV cast toured schools to discuss issues on gender, HIV and health and to disseminate relevant materials. An impact evaluation of the project revealed widespread exposure to the show, leading to a significant reduction in gender-inequitable attitudes and an increase in interpersonal communication about sexual behaviour (Global Women’s Institute, 2015). 

Community advocacy teams and ‘referral points’

Ghana: In 2007, ActionAid and Songtaba (a community based partner) established a community networking initiative with the aim of stopping violence against girls in schools in Nanumba District – an area far from the capital, where child protection services did not have the financial or human resources to follow up reported cases of SRGBV. By linking community structures to decentralized agencies, the networking initiative resulted in an increased number of reported cases of abuse as mechanisms to report SRGBV became more visible, active and able to facilitate redress for abuse. It should be noted that the initiative was conducted as part of a multicomponent initiative, involving girls’ clubs, awareness-raising activities and Peer Parent Educators (Antonowicz, 2010).

Community members as mentors

Nigeria: The Girls’ Education Project in northern Nigeria uses women mentors to build girl students’ self-esteem. The programme is supported by DFID, UNICEF and the Federal Government of Nigeria. Evidence suggests that women mentors (including mothers of students) can provide social support and build girls’ confidence, life skills and resilience (Fancy and McAslan Fraser, 2014).

Community members as classroom assistants

Guinea: In 2002, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) started the Classroom Assistant Program in schools for Liberian refugees in Guinea, following research findings that male teachers were sexually exploiting female students, in particular offering good grades and other school privileges in return for sex. It was not possible for IRC to find refugee or local women with the necessary education and time to become teachers. Instead female classroom assistants were recruited from the community and trained as a preventative mechanism against sexual exploitation and abuse. The classroom assistants have an explicit mandate to address the abuse and exploitation of students. An assessment of the programme found that both girls and boys reported they felt the classrooms were more welcoming and supportive of learning. Not only did their physical presence in the classroom act as a deterrent, but classroom assistants also played a critical role in reducing sexual exploitation by collecting exam grades from the teachers and distributing them to students, thereby being the key point of communication around grades and helping prevent the manipulation of girls into sexual relationships in exchange for good grades. However, it should be noted that a key lesson learned in the early stages of the programme was the need to train teachers about the role of classroom assistants to avoid reinforcing gender power imbalances (e.g. in the way they spoke to classroom assistants in front of the students) (Winthrop and Kirk, 2006).

Analysing risks and developing plans

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): In 2012, Education Cluster partners worked at school level with students, teachers, parents and the local community to analyse local risks and vulnerabilities, including protection-related threats resulting from conflict and insecurity, and to develop risk reduction plans (GCPEA, 2014).

Parents/ community members as protective ‘escorts’ to and from school

Iraq:Walking buses’ are used in Iraq to ensure girls are safe on their way to and from school. Children are supervised and escorted on an approved route to school, with at least two trained adults acting as ‘driver’ and conductor’. The adults are parents, family members or community volunteers who are trusted by parents. There is some evidence that these walking buses have had a positive correlation with girls’ attendance rates (UNICEF, 2010).

Community alert systems

Palestine: In 2011, UNESCO introduced an SMS community alert system for 29 schools in the Gaza strip, as part of a pilot crisis-Disaster Risk Reduction (c-DDR) programme. The system built upon an informal initiative of parents who called teachers in the morning to ensure that routes to school were safe. The new alert system uses text messages via mobile phones to warn students, teachers and parents where incidents are occurring. The system can also be used for monitoring and reporting to collect data, for example, on experiences of violence (Sbardella, 2009; Souktel, 2012).

Community security groups

Afghanistan: There have been several reports of communities forming defence groups or ‘security shuras’ to physically protect students. For example, in Khost Province, Arbikai Shuras (traditional community defence structures) have provided security to schools. The Arbikai Shuras are made up of young men from different tribes in the area and are paid for by the community; although not established by the Ministry of Education, they are known by the government. By demonstrating the community’s support for girls’ education, these community security groups can be a more effective defence mechanism than outside security forces (Glad, 2009).

Nigeria/Pakistan: The Safe Schools Initiative was launched in Nigeria following the abduction of schoolgirls in Chibok in 2014, and has subsequently been extended to Pakistan after the Peshawar school massacre by Taliban gunmen in December 2014. The initiative focuses on school and community interventions, with special measures for the most at-risk and vulnerable children. It aims to create community security groups promoting safe zones for education consisting of teachers, parents, police, community leaders and young people themselves, as well as building better school fortifications and linking schools to police stations by mobile telecommunications.

Working with religious and traditional leaders

Mauritania: UNICEF, together with the Imams and Ulema Coalition for the Rights of Women and Children in Mauritania (RIODEF) and other Imam networks, undertook an initiative to raise awareness about corporal punishment of children in schools – not only in Madrassas (Qur’anic schools) and non-religiously affiliated schools – but also in the home. A national study on corporal punishment against children in the Islamic Law (Sharia) was conducted to clarify the position of Islam vis-à-vis corporal punishment, which concluded that Islamic law (Sharia) protects the physical integrity of children and provided the basis for a fatwa (a religious opinion on how questions related to Islamic law should be understood, interpreted or applied) that forbids verbal and physical violence in the educational system. Various awareness-raising sessions were held to publicize the fatwa, with workshops across Mauritania and the fatwa was distributed to more than 2,000 schools and religious centres (Antonowicz, 2010).

Community groups monitoring incidents of SRGBV

Sierra Leone: As part of the Coordinated Action for Protection and Empowerment (CAPE) project, Mobile Protection Teams respond to protection alerts that are either communicated to them for follow up by central sources (police or Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs), or that come to them directly via community reports. Protection officers are in the process of mapping communities that have been identified by Chiefdom authorities as having protection problems, for example, mining areas, where children, especially girls, are particularly vulnerable. The strategy is for Protection Officers to tap into as many community groups as possible, in order to establish informal networks of ‘eyes and ears’ that can access their help on cases when needed. This includes School Clubs, Mothers’ Clubs, Child Welfare Committees, School Management Committees and women’s farming groups – any groups that are active and play a formal or informal protection role. There is emphasis on inclusion of vulnerable individuals, such as teenage mothers, children, HIV-positive groups and organizations for people with disabilities, who will be the first to know of such cases among their peers. Although this is a very new and short project that has only just become operational, protection officers work closely with the new government social workers, in trying to establish a response practice. Their role is specifically around assessment and referral, with an emphasis on fostering links to reduce the isolation of vulnerable individuals with protection needs.

Non-formal education through community groups for young people

Voices against Violence, global: In July 2011, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) launched a nine-year campaign, ‘Stop the violence – speak out for girls’ rights’. A key component of this campaign is a non-formal education curriculum initiative, Voices against Violence, which has been developed in partnership with UN Women and has been successfully piloted in 20 countries. The curriculum aims to create a safe and supportive environment to engage up to five million children and young people, in addition to parents and the wider community, in dialogue around violence against girls. Through a child and youth-centred approach, individuals are supported to realize their rights, challenge negative gender norms and promote alternative models of masculinity and femininity, and gain the skills and confidence to take action to protect themselves from violence. The initiative is delivered through WAGGGS’ national member organizations, partners and governments and captures a wide range of activities that respond to a diversity of learning needs and objectives within a number of cultural, social and legal contexts. Content is structured around six core learning outcomes (START, THINK, IDENTIFY, SUPPORT, SPEAK OUT, TAKE ACTION), and is divided into four age groups for early (aged five to seven), young (aged eight to 11), middle (aged 12 to 16) and older years (aged 17 to 25). The curriculum has been primarily developed for implementation by girl guides and girl scout groups, youth organizations and schools, but may have application to other groups. The curriculum has developed a monitoring and evaluation framework so it is able to compare participants’ understanding and attitudes towards violence against girls both before and after the programme. Group leaders are also encouraged to assess their groups’ progress using online tools (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) and UN Women (2013b) and WAGGS website and resource links for the curriculum and guides).