Access to quality education is a challenge for millions of children in Asia. Among the barriers that stop them from fulfilling their full potential is school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV).
This can take various forms, such as physical and sexual abuse, harassment and bullying. It limits girls’ enrolment, undermines their participation and achievements, and increases absenteeism and dropout rates.
Girls particularly vulnerable
It is estimated that 246 million girls and boys are harassed and abused on their way to, and at school every year, with girls being particularly vulnerable.
In our Hear Our Voices study, over 7,000 young people were surveyed on their perceptions of equality and many indicated specific fears and concerns about their safety in and around schools. Over a quarter of girls in the report claimed they ‘never’ or ‘seldom’ felt safe on their way to school. In addition, another third of girls said they never or seldom felt comfortable using the school latrines.
As part of our Promoting Equality and Safety In Schools programme (PEASS), we undertook further research to assess the prevalence, nature, response and reporting of SRGBV. We spoke to more than 9,000 children and found that students’ gender attitudes are a main driver of SRGBV in Asia, with boys having more regressive gender attitudes than girls. The high prevalence of both physical and emotional violence in schools and at home makes students feel unsafe and increases the likelihood of them using violence themselves.
We work towards long-lasting change by ensuring safe, quality education for all children. Plan International has been a thought leader in SRGBV since the implementation of our Learn Without Fear campaign and report. In addition, we work with partner agencies and organisations to advocate at the highest levels for safe education as part of the Global Partners Working Group on SRGBV.
The Promoting Equality and Safety in Schools (PEASS) programme is an innovative and results-oriented initiative that has been developed around research to address gender inequality in schools and combat SRGBV in Asia. We implement projects at multiple levels which link schools and communities to local and governmental institutions to tackle SRGBV.
In Hanoi, Vietnam, counselling services are made available to students as part of a Plan International project to create a safe environment at school. This simple step allows students to discuss and resolve their problems confidentially. Nu*, a ninth grade student gained confidence from counselling sessions after being bullied at school. “I now feel confident. I no longer have thoughts of giving up on school. In fact, I now speak to my friends and tell them if they ever face troubles, they should speak to the school counsellor” she says.
Safe environment instrumental
A safe environment is instrumental for breaking patterns of violence. It provides skills that enable children to communicate, negotiate, and support peaceful solutions to conflicts. A safe school is an underlying force for change. It establishes behaviour patterns that reduce violence in the wider society.
Educated girls and boys are catalysts for gender equality, which alleviates poverty and is instrumental for bringing about economic growth. Investing in safe and gender responsive schools leads to the empowerment of girls. It gives them the opportunity to reach their full potential, decide their futures and thrive.
*Name changed for child protection.