A Whole School Approach to Preventing and Responding to School-Related, Gender-Based Violence (SRGBV): Prioritizing Safety from Violence as Schools Reopen

Gender Based Violence

This article is part of the Committing to Change: Girls’ EiE from Charlevoix to COVID-19 blog series. 

COVID-19 has impacted women and girls in numerous ways. The indefinite lockdowns and the prolonged school closures have not only resulted in lost learning but has exposed children, particularly girls, to additional vulnerabilities and abuses. Rates of teenage pregnancies and child marriages have increased dramatically. In October 2020, over 400 girls from four districts in the Manicaland Province, Zimbabwe were reported to have dropped out of school due to pregnancy, marriage, financial challenges and illness. The Ministerial statement by the Minister of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Dr Sithembiso Nyoni on the 4th of March 2021, highlighted that 4959 teenage pregnancies and 1774 child marriages countrywide were reported between the period Jan-February the 5th 2021. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of violence against women and girls have intensified. According to the Ministerial Statement above, 836 girls aged 17 and under were raped between October-December 2019. In the same period in 2020, 900 girls were raped. These are just the cases that were reported, the real rates are likely much higher.

There is high risk of school-related gender-based violence as schools reopen

It is increasingly important that the education sector address the impacts of the violence learners experienced during school closures, and ensure that learners are safe when schools reopen. 

School Related Gender Based Violence takes many forms; including sexual, physical, psychological and economic violence occurring in and around schools as a result of gender norms and stereotypes and enforced by unequal power dynamics. A significant body of research exists on the negative effects of SRGBV on school attendance and physical and mental health. Learners who have experienced SRGBV often experience negative health outcomes including depression, feelings of worthlessness, a higher likelihood of drug and alcohol abuse and increased risk of suicide.

A whole school approach can mitigate these risks

Figure 1: Domains of a whole school approach

In 2018, the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) and the Forum for African Women Educationalists Zimbabwe Chapter (FAWEZI), with support from UNICEF, launched a pilot initiative, A Whole School Approach to prevent SRGBV: Minimum Standards and Monitoring Framework. A whole school approach aims to strengthen the capacity of school leadership, parents, teachers and students in establishing a safe and inclusive learning environment. It includes developing and strengthening in-school policies and procedures, training and capacity building, as well as building school-family-community partnerships. 

  • There are eight interrelated strategies that make a whole school approach, which include: 
  • Effective school leadership and community engagement to create safe, gender-sensitive learning environments
  • Establishing and implementing a code of conduct
  • Capacity building of teachers and educational staff
  • Empowering children in child rights, participation, and gender equality
  • Improving reporting, monitoring, and accountability
  • Addressing incidents, strengthening physical learning environments
  • Engaging parents.

The guide proposes eight domains and minimum standards [see figure 2] and a set of process and impact indicators to steer monitoring and evaluation. 

Figure 2: Minimum Standards of a Whole School Approach 

Gender Responsive Pedagogy Training for Teachers

As part of the pilot, teachers and school heads from the pilot schools were taken through intensive training in identifying and addressing SRGBV and in Gender Responsive Pedagogy. Through the training, many of the teachers realised how deeply rooted   SRGBV is in their schools. “Some forms of SRGBV are so subtle that one cannot identify them unless they attain a deeper understanding of the issue. Never had I thought that sitting arrangements and language use may be so offensive to learners to the extent of pushing them out of the classroom.” (Kumbirayi Tendekayi Mawoyo, teacher at St Aidan’s Primary School, Chitungwiza).

Teachers and school heads were able to recognise occasions when they had unknowingly perpetuated SRGBV via name calling, labelling, making negative comments to learners during class and discriminating by gender in the school environment and assigned activities. Pre- and post- evaluations showed a shift in teacher perspectives from being gender-blind to gender-responsive, leading to increased identification of incidents of school-related gender-based violence.

Participating schools have since developed School Codes of Conduct bearing definitions on all forms of SRGBV including referral and reporting systems of incidences of SRGBV. The guidelines also take steps towards reducing SRGBV at all levels by monitoring the conduct of all school stakeholders. This includes peer to peer relations, teaching and non-teaching staff conduct with learners.

Eliminating violence and its root causes needs a holistic approach

To truly eliminate violence from our schools, we must work together as a school community to address its root causes. A whole school approach supports teachers and education personnel to reflect on their own gender biases, and how they manifest in the classroom environment.  When all stakeholders are included in the training, execution and evaluation of the activities, this initiative has the potential to truly transform teaching and learning approaches and interactions between school leaders and learners and ensure that environments are safe, inclusive, gender responsive and conducive for learning.
With many girls at risk of never returning to school, education stakeholders must invest in implementing and financing innovative strategies like Whole School Approaches. Programmes must adopt SRGBV prevention, reporting and response mechanisms that link the school and communities to bridge the gap during lockdowns. Alternative learning platforms must incorporate messaging and information to promote awareness, reporting and safety for learners in homes and communities.

About the Author

Lydia Madyirapanze coordinates the work of the Forum for African Women (FAWE) at the Zimbabwean Chapter. Lydia has worked extensively with local and regional civil society organizations. She is the Southern Africa Moderator for the Africa Network Campaign on Education for All (ANCEFA) and chairs the Education Coalition of Zimbabwe Board. Lydia graduated with a Master’s degree in Development Studies from the National University of Science and Technology and holds a Certificate of Competence in Education Rights and Policy from University of Witwatersrand.