Taking the fight against gender-based violence to schools

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During her lifetime, one in three women will experience violence solely because she is female.Gender-based violence (GBV) carries devastating costs for survivors and their families and is often exacerbated in times of conflict and crises. Early reports suggest that violence targeting women has increased as countries have imposed quarantines and stay-at-home orders to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.[[/tweetable]] Violence against women and girls has a significant toll on not just their wellbeing, but also on their families across generations and on their communities and societies more broadly.

Violence against women and girls has a significant toll on not just their wellbeing, but also on their families across generations and on their communities and societies more broadly.

In some countries, violence against women is estimated to cost countries up to 3.7% of their GDP – more than double what most governments spend on education. In many situations, adolescent pregnancies can be a result of sexual violence or sexual exploitation. Girls who become pregnant often face strong stigma, and even discrimination, from their communities. The burden of stigma, compounded by unequal gender norms, can lead girls to drop out of school early and not return. 

Preventing and responding to gender-based violence is a key element in reaching equality between men and women, girls and boys, and an essential step to keeping girls in school and alleviating poverty. This is why the World Bank has placed the fight against violence against girls and women at the center of its operations. Through its Fund for the Poorest, the World Bank has committed to invest in preventing and addressing gender- based violence, as part of its support to safe and inclusive schools.

New approaches are being taken to deliver better education systems that can empower girls, while keeping them and boys safe. This includes:

First, providing learning that is responsive to needs: More female teachers and better trained school guidance counselors play a key role in creating classrooms that promote equality between girls and boys, provide reproductive health training and support a system that allows victims of violence to report concerns and grievances. Empowerment initiatives can pay special attention to those in danger of dropping out and reach out to students that have left school and encourage them to return. In Uganda through our Gender Innovation Labs we evaluated work done by local NGOs that try to change the life-trajectory of girls through dedicated safe spaces and life-skills training. Girls in the program were 26% less likely to have a child and 44% less likely to have sex against their will. The program has been adapted to the Sahel, where girls and young women are at high risk of early childbearing.

More female teachers and better trained school guidance counselors play a key role in creating classrooms that promote equality between girls and boys, provide reproductive health training and support a system that allows victims of violence to report concerns and grievances.

Because one of the most dangerous places for girls is on their way to school, we also need to think beyond bricks and books. Safer School Programs are working with parent-teacher associations on addressing the risk of violence children face when they travel alone for long distances. With support from the Development Marketplace: Innovations for addressing GBV, researchers are studying whether a 'walking school bus' can protect children from violence in South Africa’s Kwa Zulu Natal province. In a 'walking school bus,' adults accompany children on their way to school. Several countries, such as Ghana and India, have experimented with programs that provide bicycles for girls to provide a safer transport option for getting to school.

Second, girls must have access to secondary schools and options for continuing their educational development if they drop out because of pregnancy or other reasons. When children are unable to attend mainstream schools, as is often the case with young mothers, they should have access to viable alternatives that give them opportunities to complete their education. That may include short term alternative school pathways which facilitate adolescent mothers’ reentry into mainstream school systems, tuition subsidies for the poorest and other supports, like childcare.

Girls must have access to secondary schools and options for continuing their educational development if they drop out because of pregnancy or other reasons. 

Third, making sure that girls not only go to school, but also complete is essential: Better qualified secondary school teachers can improve girls’ learning and raise their pass rate for national exams.  Scheduled learning and use of digitally-improved materials are new areas of tackling underperforming school sectors in poor countries that show a lot of promise for both girls and boys.

To make lasting, deeper changes to the drivers of GBV, attitudes towards the use of this violence must change.In Somalia, we are evaluating a program by Save the Children that targets both boys and girls to challenge harmful social norms related to gender inequality. The curriculum is designed to provoke discussion about women’s economic empowerment, thereby aiming to transform deeply entrenched norms that not only disadvantage girls but are also harmful to boys.

Better education systems are an essential first step to ensuring every girl is able to fulfill her potential.

Many of these approaches have the potential to transform schools into better, safer and more accessible places for all children, but specifically girls. Addressing gender-based violence, and sexual violence in particular, while removing the stigma that pregnant girls and young mothers face, may take time. Better education systems are an essential first step to ensuring every girl is able to fulfill her potential.

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Authors

Diana J. Arango

Sr. Gender-Based Violence and Development Specialist, World Bank Group

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