Schools can be a breeding ground for violence. Roughly 246 million schoolchildren are harassed and abused in and around school every year. And this is a global issue. Incidents of school-related gender-based violence cut across cultures, regions and economies.
Education has a central part to play in challenging the negative social norms that drive gender-based violence. Yet schools are frequently places where this kind of violence prevails.
Plan International is part of a global working group looking at how we can end violence in and around schools. For this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, we want to draw attention to the pivotal role teachers can play in ending this issue.
Perpetrators, victims and solutions
Unfortunately, in some cases, teachers are part of the problem. Plan International’s research across many parts of the world shows that teachers may abuse their position of power by engaging in psychological bullying of students, using violent discipline, dispensing unacceptable, disrespectful attitudes, or even engaging in transactional sex with girls in return for waiving school fees or giving better grades.
Teachers are the most important education resource globally.
Additionally, female teachers are themselves vulnerable to violence, experiencing harassment and abuse at the hands of students, fellow teachers and school management. At the same time, teachers are frequently unable to speak out about violence, either against them or against students, for fear of retribution.
So teachers are very much bound up in the problem – but they can also be a huge part of the solution. They can be allies in stopping this abuse. Schools are perfectly positioned to create an environment of non-violence, tolerance and gender equality – and teachers have a central role to play in this transformation, through their own actions and through the materials they teach.
So how can we transform teachers into allies in the fight to end gender-based violence in and around schools?
Teachers are the most important education resource globally – and should be valued. Teachers must have respect and dignity in their work, and as such must have safe working conditions. No teacher should experience physical abuse in the workplace.
Teachers must be trained to respond to violence in schools. High-quality training on all forms of gender-based violence, effective prevention strategies and positive discipline methods must be mandatory for all teachers and school administrators and adequately funded by governments.
Teachers who are victims of abuse should be able to access safe reporting mechanisms, expect prompt, adequate responses and be supported throughout the process of reporting violence, and be able to access justice where needed.
Listen to teachers
Teachers’ unions can play a key role in both hearing the views of teachers and influencing their behaviour. Unions should support their members to access appropriate training and support on gender-based violence in schools. They can help raise awareness, reinforce codes of conduct and positive discipline practices, and advocate at a national policy level.
Hold teachers to account
Schools must have clear codes of conduct and ethical guidelines in place to ensure everyone is aware of what constitutes unacceptable behaviour, and understand how to report it. Repercussions for violence must be clear, strict, and enforced in order to avoid a culture of silence.
The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based violence are an opportunity to reflect on the issue globally - to give space to activists who are working tirelessly to end violence and to raise discussions about parts of the problem that receive less attention. This year we stand with teachers to #EndViolence, so that nobody has to feel unsafe at school because of their gender.