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UN takes first steps towards eradicating school-related gender-based violence

Fifty eight countries have signed up to the first ever UN resolution on school-related gender-based violence, “Learning without fear”, during UNESCO’s Executive Board meeting on 16 April.

 

The new resolution invites UNESCO and its Member States to:

  • Condemn gender-based violence in all its forms and manifestations
  • Design and implement national policies and action plans
  • Promote the creation of safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all boys and girls

The decision also invites the Director-General to submit a roadmap to better combat school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) to the next UNESCO Executive Board meeting.

Safe havens

“It is clear that school-related gender-based violence is creating a dangerous learning environment for children all over the world, especially for adolescent girls,” said Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO. “Schools should be a safe haven for young people, especially for those in marginalised and conflict-affected countries.”

It is vital that the international community works together to ensure better research is carried out to understand the scale and scope of SRGBV and to develop policies to eliminate it post-2015, she added.

Education International (EI) is part of the Global Working Group on SRGBV, which has been supporting the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development in drafting the language of this resolution. The Ministry, along with UNESCO and the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), set up this international working group of 30 UN agencies, governments, development agencies, and civil society and research organisations in April 2014 , with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Consequences of SRGBV for children

In March, to mark International Women’s Day, UNGEI, UNESCO and the Education For All Global Monitoring Report produced a new paper showing that SRGBV has serious consequences for children’s health and wellbeing and negatively impacts learning, school attendance, and school completion.

The paper called for a consensus on how SRGBV should be understood and addressed, and formed the basis of a call by Annick Girardin, the French Secretary of State for Development and the Francophonie, for a decision on SRGBV during the Executive Board meeting of UNESCO.

“France has been mobilising efforts around school-related gender-based violence in accordance with its commitments to gender equality and education for all,” Girardin said.

Noting that UNESCO has a key role to play in ensuring learning spaces that are gender friendly and free of violence , she commended “the large support base for this new resolution”. This marks “an important step in the recognition of this unknown global phenomenon and we will be actively following up on the commitments made.”

Impact on girls

The joint paper showed that adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, harassment and exploitation, including in and around school settings. Data shows that 10 per cent of adolescent girls in low and middle income countries reported incidences of forced sexual intercourse or other sexual acts in the previous year. And a national survey in South Africa showed that almost eight per cent of all secondary school girls have experienced severe sexual assault or rape while at school.

SRGBV is a global phenomenon. A study in the Netherlands found that 27 per cent of students had been sexually harassed by school personnel. A study in the United Kingdom showed a third of 16-18-year-olds face unwanted sexual touching in school.

Impact on boys

While studies on sexual violence show a greater prevalence among girls, recent research into SRGBV reveals that boys are also at risk. One study in Indonesia showed that 12 per cent of both girls and boys reported experiencing sexual violence whilst at school.

Children in conflict and emergency settings, and those from marginalised groups are particularly at risk of SRGBV.

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