Education Unions Take Action to Eradicate School-Related Gender-Based Violence
Research results worldwide indicate that School-Related Gender-Based Violence (SRGBV) is a huge barrier to quality education. With the COVID-19 pandemic. an alarming increase in the incidences of SRGBV is being observed across Africa.
In order to help member unions to effectively address the phenomenon, EIRAF as part of the broader EI campaign to address SRGBV which started in 2016, took steps to expand the fight against SRGBV through a series of workshops and webinars. During these workshops member organisations are encouraged to think concretely about the emerging issues related to the alarming increase of gender-based violence and how to work on eradicating violence in and around schools (and other educational institutions) in the context of a global pandemic and its repercussions.
This is how, after organising a regional webinar and implementing three training and planning workshops, EIRAF, through its sub regional women networks, undertook webinars to enable participants to review and discuss among peers, the work their respective unions are doing to end SRGBV. The West Africa Women in Education Network (WAWEN) webinar, held on 8th October 2021 under the theme: “Unions share their experiences of and responses to SRGBV”, was attended by 80 Gender Coordinators of Education unions at the regional and state levels, staff in charge of media/publicity within unions, communication officers responsible for disseminating information to teachers at grassroots level from the Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.
The webinar was an opportunity for participants to get increased understanding of SRGBV, which is defined as “acts or threats of sexual, physical or psychological violence occurring in and around schools, perpetrated as a result of gender norms and stereotypes, and enforced by unequal power dynamics”. “SRGBV also refers to the differences between girls’ and boys’ experiences of and vulnerabilities to violence”.
They also discussed the ROOT CAUSES of SRGBV which include poverty, unequal power relations, negative norms and culture, precarious work conditions of parents, amongst others. Explaining the forms of SRGBV encountered in their schools and communities, participants mentioned: verbal abuse; discrimination; bullying; corporal punishment; sexual harassment; rape; forced marriage; female genital mutilation; abductions; forced initiations in traditional camps (ending with child marriages and teen-age pregnancies); …all of which have an impact on the education of boys and girls. It occurs that teachers and education support personnel who denounce or take action against SRGBV cases experience threats, intimidation and even beatings.
It also transpired from discussions in breakout sessions and in the plenary that the IMPACT of SRGBV ranges from emotional and psychological trauma to poor school performance and school dropouts.
Assistance to SRGBV survivors, counseling support, advocacy and lobbying with traditional leaders, networking and working with other stakeholders and the communities, advocating for the enforcement of legislation on women and children’s rights, campaigns to ensure negative cultures are broken and that pregnant girls get back to school, are some of the different RESPONSES FROM TEACHERS’ UNIONS to SRGBV.
Before closing, participants reflected on strategies to strengthen the FUTURE INTERVENTIONS of teacher unions to end SRGBV. These include: to educate the union grassroots members on SRGBV; establish SRGBV clubs in senior high schools; include modules on SRGBV in teacher training programmes; advocate for the enforcement of schools’ disciplinary measures; and train counsellors who will provide counselling for girls and provide psychosocial support to victims of SRGBV.
Speaking on behalf of the Regional Director of EI Africa, Anais Dayamba, Regional Coordinator, urged participants to adhere to their unions’ teachers’ codes of conduct as well as the EI Declaration on Professional Ethics. She then encouraged them to use the acquired knowledge to educate other union members, educators, students and community members on SRGBV.