Bullying and gender-based violence in schools: UNESCO launching toolkit for teachers in Eastern and Southern Africa
School violence, including gender-based violence and bullying, is a growing concern in sub-Saharan Africa. In recent years the increasing amount of stories of school violence victims have generated outrage in the region. This includes stories such as of a 12-year-old schoolboy who was beaten to death by his classmates; a schoolgirl who had her hair set on fire by a classmate while filmed by bystanders, or of a 16-year-old girl who committed suicide as a result of being bullied.
On 9 March 2022 UNESCO will host a webinar to release and promote a proven toolkit for schools in the region to address the growing issue of school violence, including bullying and gender-based violence. The tool from the programme Connect with Respect (CwR) guides teachers in lower secondary schools to deliver a range of activities with their students. The activities can be integrated within a range of subjects, including literacy, social studies, civics/citizenship education, health, life skills and sexuality education.
A 2019 UNESCO report found that 48% of learners in the Eastern and Southern Africa region had experienced bullying in the past month and various data sources show that rates of sexual abuse and sexual harassment are high in the region. To remove the root causes of bullying and violence in schools, education – with teachers at the frontline – seems to be the best long-term prevention measure.
Learners feel the positive impact of the Connect with Respect programme
A pilot of the CwR programme in three countries in the region – Zambia, Tanzania, and Eswatini – has yielded promising results. More than 90% of learners agreed that all schools should teach about the prevention of gender-based violence, and over three quarters of students (77%) said that the programme improved their relationship skills.
Other findings show that the programme further led to a reduction in the occurrence of verbal forms of sexual harassment perpetrated by boys against girls in the school setting; a reduction in learners reporting students of the same or opposite sex teasing them; increased knowledge about how to seek help for those impacted by gender-based violence, and overall, a more respectful treatment between learners in their classrooms.
Teachers need support to prevent school violence
All learners should have access to education that leads to the prevention of school violence, and the promotion of positive relationships both now and in the future. This includes explicit efforts to address gender-based violence, in which students learn how to reflect critically on gender norms and develop constructive attitudes and behaviors in relationships with others. Such interventions can dramatically reduce the high rates of violence, including gender-based violence, in and beyond the school premises.
But while as many as four in five teachers view it as their responsibility to ensure that learners are safe from all forms of violence in the classroom, there are still gaps in their readiness and capacity to do so, shows a global study carried out by UNESCO on the role of teachers in addressing school violence (Safe to Learn: What do teachers think and do about violence in schools? forthcoming in 2022).
More attention and resources are therefore necessary to adequately prepare teachers to prevent school violence and bullying.
So while teachers point to the value of the CwR programme, they also express that to implement it well, support from their schools and the wider education sector is essential. This includes carving out time within the busy curricula to address the topic of gender-based violence prevention and ensuring that teachers are adequately trained and supported by the school administration.