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Safe spaces and co-curricular activities

Dernière modification: November 15, 2016

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What are safe spaces and co-curricular activities?

A safe space is a group or place where young people feel physically and emotionally secure (Brady, 2005). Co-curricular or extra-curricular refers to activities and learning experiences that complement what students are learning in school, but are separate from the academic curriculum. These routes are critical ways of strengthening children and young people’s life skills, which are crucial for preventing SRGBV and are often ignored in the formal curriculum.

School-based clubs and other types of safe spaces can be a useful entry point for addressing SRGBV. Most interventions have engaged girls separately from boys to give both boys and girls their own space to speak freely, gain confidence and improve their knowledge, attitudes and practices in managing violence and inequality. In a safe space, young people feel free to openly express themselves in a confidential environment, and to ask sensitive questions without fear of judgement.

Safe spaces need to be carefully designed and planned with a specific purpose in mind – for example, girls’ empowerment, in the case of the Stop Violence Against Girls in School (SVAGS) initiative implemented by the NGO ActionAid in Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique A key component of SVAGS was the introduction of girls’ clubs – a safe space where girls could meet, discuss and support each other, as they learned about violence and how to deal with it. The clubs used debates, drama, camps and visits to other communities as a way to discuss violence and carry out advocacy. Girls also received informal support from girls’ club mentors in several schools. The project’s baseline study also identified the need to work with boys as well as girls for achieving the overall objective of girls’ empowerment. As a result, the project began working through boys’ clubs, and in Mozambique through including boys within the gender clubs (Parkes and Heslop, 2011 and 2013).

Co-curricular activities often focus on building assets and creating safe spaces. They use entry points such as drama, debates and sports activities. However, they can be highly selective and partial; the most effective co-curricular activities are used as a bridge to involve the whole school in more challenging systemic and cultural changes, and as such are an important complement to systemic, whole-school and institutional interventions discussed elsewhere in this guidance.


Practical action – How to create safe spaces 

  • Identify a space that is physically and emotionally safe, that is conveniently located, private and confidential and not subject to intrusions by people unaffiliated with the programme or unwanted authority figures.
  • Hold meetings regularly at the same time and place each week.
  • Create leadership opportunities within your programme for young people to grow into.

Source: Brady (2005); Population Council (2010)

Practical action – How to use co-curricular activities to address SRGBV 

  • Strengthen linkages with the school and wider community to help extend the reach of the co-curricular activities and avoid risks of clubs becoming seen as exclusive or ‘disconnected’ from the broader school culture (Parkes and Heslop, 2013; SWAGAA, 2013).
  • Mentors and coaches (who may be teachers, school staff or volunteers) canplay an important role in shaping students’ attitudes and behaviours,particularly mentors of the same sex and who are close in age, social and economic background, and can act as a positive and supportive role models (Das et al, 2012).
  • Clubs for boys as well as girls can help to address boys’ experiences and attitudes around SRGBV, discussing what it means to be a boy or man and the connections with SRGBV, as well as preventing boys from attempting to disrupt the girls’ sessions – something that happened with a Plan Uganda project where boys complained that girls were receiving more attention (Leach et al, 2013).
  • Curricula that combine life skills with other activities, such as sports, asset building and economic empowerment, can be an interactive, effective way of addressing violence against women and girls (VAWG) and/or gender equitable relationships in co-curricular settings. Examples are provided below of the types of modules included.

Country example – Stop Violence Against Girls in School (SVAGS) school-based girls clubs, Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique 

ActionAid’s Stop Violence Against Girls in School (SVAGS) is a five-year project (2008–2013) in Kenya, Ghana and Mozambique. SVAGS aimed to empower girls to be able to enjoy their right to education and participate in a violence-free environment. The baseline study (Parkes and Heslop, 2011) confirmed that girls experienced multiple forms of violence in the preceding 12 months in the project areas in Kenya (86 per cent), Ghana (82 per cent) and Mozambique (66 per cent).

The endline evaluation (Parkes and Heslop, 2013) found that girls in clubs demonstrated better knowledge, attitudes and confidence to challenge gender violence than girls not in clubs. Girls were more likely to report violence, particularly in Mozambique, where girls in clubs (64 per cent) were almost twice as likely to report violence to someone than girls not in clubs (35 per cent). There was less difference in Ghana and Kenya, possibly due to the lack of mentors in some schools.

Although the evaluation noted that the girls’ clubs were one of the main successes of SVAGS, they also warned of the risks of the girls’ clubs becoming ‘disconnected’ from the broader school culture. There is also a risk that the girls’ clubs become ‘elite’ or ‘exclusive’ organizations when space is limited and teachers select club members.

Source: Parkes and Heslop (2011 and 2013)

Country example – Using It’s All One toolkit in safe spaces, Dadaab refugee camp, Kenya

It’s All One toolkit and guidance was created by the Population Council (Haberland et al, 2009) to provide a unified life skills curriculum in safe spaces for young people, including communication and decision-making skills, sexuality, gender and violence. In 2011, IRC Kenya partnered with Population Council to implement an adapted curriculum with 10 to 14-year-old girls in Dadaab refugee camp, Kenya. The approach involved a safe space model with mentors trained to facilitate the life skills curriculum, which included a focus on self-esteem, gender-based violence, adolescence and puberty, and savings and goal-setting, among other things. This was one of the first times that this model was adapted in an emergency context and refugee camp setting. The end-of-programme qualitative evaluation showed: improvements in self-esteem and adopting progressive gender norms; improvements on social indicators such as having a safe place to sleep in the case of an emergency; knowing someone girls could borrow money from; and having someone they could talk to about their problems.

Sources: Fancy and McAslan Fraser (2014a); Haberland et al (2009); IRC (2011)

Example: School-based Girls Empowerment Clubs (GEC-Plus), Swaziland

Girls’ empowerment clubs (GEC-Plus) were created as part of a project, implemented by the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) and the Population Council. The clubs aimed to build girls’ social, economic and leadership assets by providing a safe space for vulnerable girls, friendship structures and mentors. GEC-Plus also focused on educating and empowering girls with sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) information, and emphasizing the need to report cases in their schools and communities. 

study of GEC-Plus in three secondary schools (using a pre- and post-intervention design) found:

  • Significant positive changes in girls’ attitudes regarding SGBV
  • Significant improvements in girls’ awareness about SGBV
  • Some improvements in the proportion of girls who indicated that they would report incidents of sexual harassment to teachers, school principal or the police, particularly sexual harassment by another student. However, there was no significant change in the proportion of girls who would report similar incidents by a teacher.

Key recommendations from the GEC-Plus evaluation included:

  • Incorporate components aimed at enhancing girls’ self-efficacy to increase the likelihood girls can decline unwanted sexual advances by teachers and fellow students
  • Strengthen linkages with the wider community to help address SGBV outside the school context and extend the reach of the programme
  • Advocate for GEC-Plus to be scaled up and institutionalised through the Ministry of Education. 

Source: SWAGAA, 2013 


Country example – Parivartan school-based cricket clubs for boys, India

Using the popularity of cricket among young boys in India, the Parivartan programme is training cricket coaches and community leaders to address issues of gender-based violence. By engaging cricket coaches and mentors, the programme seeks to:

  • raise awareness about abusive and disrespectful behaviour
  • promote gender-equitable, non-violent attitudes
  • teach skills to speak up and intervene when witnessing harmful and disrespectful behaviours.


The tool is based on the Coaching Boys to Men curriculum that was developed in the US and adapted in India by Futures Without Violence and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) along with the Mumbai Schools Sports Association (MSSA) and the NGO Apnalaya. Parivartan has been implemented in the formal school system and the slum community of Shivaji Nagar.

The programme has been evaluated using a quasi-experimental design with two arms in each setting: an intervention arm and a comparison arm. In the intervention arm, the coaches or mentors received specialized training and resource material, which they used to implement the programme with their athletes. The evaluation found that participation in the programme led to:

  • improvements in bystander attitudes, with school athletes in the intervention group more likely to say they would intervene positively in response to observing sexual jokes about a girl or a girl being sexually assaulted
  • improvements in gender-related attitudes for both school and community athletes compared to the control group. In particular, there was a large change among the community athletes participating in the programme in their agreement with the statement, ‘If a girl says no, it naturally means yes’ (from 36 per cent to 17 per cent)
  • some decline in peer violence, though it still remains high among both the school and community athletes
  • positive changes in the perspectives and practices of the coaches and mentors. However, the impact on the behaviour of athletes was marginal, possibly because of the short timeframe between the initiation of the programme and the evaluation
  • the programme was well accepted by both the school and community athletes and prompted self-reported behaviour change that aligned with the overall aims of the programme.


The evaluation found some evidence of greater positive changes for the community athletes than the school athletes, possibly because the mentors in the community were closer in age to the athletes and shared the same social and economic background. The school coaches were much older than the boys they coached and they also held more rigid views about gender than the mentors at the start of the programme.

Source: Das et al (2012)