Youth represent a powerful tool for the world, both developed and developing. Whether it’s a potential labour force, business innovation, sustainable development, or social change, the significant youth population across the globe has impressive potential to help address many challenges currently being faced by the international community. This includes issues of gender inequality and, more specifically, gender-based violence (GBV). One of the most impactful ways to reach youth and influence them in a positive way is through education – teaching necessary skills, inspiring change, and empowering them to act. Education can be a powerful tool utilised to prevent and reduce cases of GBV. As a 2015 SIDA brief stated, the ‘potential for young people to act as agents of change provides one of the greatest hopes for achieving the social transformation necessary to end GBV and can be unlocked through high quality, gender sensitive education’.
While education alone will not reduce GBV, it does play a key role in GBV prevention. Standard educational practices teach both boys and girls basic skills while influencing perceptions of appropriate interactions and behaviours. Social norms, gendered and otherwise, are learned and reinforced in educational settings, especially in early primary levels. To counteract many socialised behaviours which can result in GBV later in life, early learning must include skills and knowledge which promote respect, equality, and tolerance. Such practices can greatly affect a young person’s ability to refrain from and/or protect themselves from situations of GBV. Being made aware of the importance of tolerance, equality and communication from an early age enables youth to build respectful social relationships, and it builds youths’ capacities to assess personal choices and the repercussions of those choices. Such self-awareness and mutual respect throughout society would then contribute to a reduction of GBV, as young people would be taught appropriate behaviours from an early age which would not lead to a passive societal acceptance of violence and gender divisive norms.
Aside from the general social shifts that education can encourage, there are also more clearly defined outcomes which show higher education addresses gender inequality and prevents gender-based violence. Research has shown that girls who stay in school longer have higher incomes, marry later in life, have fewer children, and, in the long-term, are more protected from sexual harassment and contracting HIV/AIDS. Completing at least a secondary level of education, if not higher, results in a woman being 20%-55% less likely to be a victim of intimate partner violence. For every additional level of schooling successfully completed, basic skills increase, along with employment opportunities and economic status, ultimately contributing to women’s empowerment and the reduction of unequal power relationships between women and men. Women who are more economically and socially empowered have greater abilities to manage personal relationships in a positive manner. It is also more likely that such women have the resources to leave unhealthy relationships if necessary, rather than staying in an abusive situation out of necessity.
Education is a critical aspect of GBV prevention and reduction. Girls and women who complete more schooling have better access to resources and knowledge allowing them to avoid or leave harmful relationships and situations that lead to violence. Girls and boys who are taught how to interact in open and tolerant ways have a greater ability to build respectful relationships, preventing negative behaviours from forming. Higher educational attainment in general, for both boys and girls, also contributes to a reduction of gender-based violence when positive skills and interactions are learned and negative, violent behaviours are not relied upon to obtain and display power. Ultimately, more emphasis needs to be placed on both education and youth in areas where GBV is an urgent concern. If these positive educational impacts can be better utilised, violence prevention will be more easily achieved and victimisation reduced.
Kelli McGuire is the Lead Associate at the Centre for Gender Rights at LCILP Global. She has an MSc in Emerging Economies and Interational Development from King’s College London and a BA in Political Science-International Studies from Kansas State University. Her research focuses on gender, youth, and social policies, with particular interest on intersectional analyses of such policies.