Gender-based violence (GBV) is a gross human rights violation occurring in multiple forms across sectors and societies. While the term ‘GBV’ has gained significant recognition in recent years as efforts to eliminate such violence have increased globally, particular locations of GBV incidents are often overlooked or not typically associated with such actions. One such location is school, which, especially in Western societies, is generally thought of as a safe location for youth and children. The unfortunate truth is that schools can be a source of incredible human rights violations in terms of gender-based violence, and there needs to be more engagement across communities in order to combat this situation.
Gender-based violence abuses can occur in any location, including homes, schools, the workplace, and the community. Understanding and being aware of GBV in educational environments is especially important given the fact that schools represent one of the key locations where gender socialisation takes place and where relationship expectations are formed. Thus, if unequal gender norms and behaviours are learned and reproduced in schools, they are increasingly likely to be acted upon and reproduced throughout the community. Such a cycle can easily lead to situations of GBV both within schools and the wider community as individuals rely and act upon unequal behavioural expectations in order to gain power.
Aside from being locations where gendered behaviours which lead to GBV are learned, schools can also be sites of pervasive GBV activity. Such activity can occur in a student-to-student manner, staff-to-student, staff-to-staff, or even a perpetrator unrelated to the school can targeted students on school grounds to be his or her victims. GBV can be male-on-male, male-on-female, or female-on-female. Gender norms and GBV can be implicitly legitimised and reinforced in schools when gendered language and behaviours are utilised within teaching and common educational practices. Common examples of GBV in school settings include: bullying, corporal punishment, physical abuse and violence, and sexual harassment, among others. Research in Liberia shows nearly ⅓ of students reported experiencing any form of abuse in school. This is unfortunately not an uncommon figure. Experiencing GBV in school not only victimises young girls and boys, resulting in significant social impacts, it also greatly affects educational attainment and life goals for many.
Steps need to be taken to address the danger of GBV occurring in schools, so that the safety of all students and staff can be better guaranteed. Recommendations for improving education and reducing situations of school related GBV range from basic safety improvements for students, to increased engagement of staff, parents, and the community at large, to increased learning opportunities for all students, especially in second chance programs. GBV intervention efforts need to include more trainings for teachers directly related to violence prevention and best practices for addressing gender biases in positive ways. GBV monitoring also needs to be improved throughout schools. These are only some of the possible changes that could be implemented to increase school related GBV prevention. Such efforts need to receive more of a focus in the overall fight to end GBV and to ensure the safety of the world’s youth.
Kelli McGuire is the Lead Associate at the Centre for Gender Rights at LCILP Global. She has an MSc in Emerging Economies and International 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.