Beyond Access: Promoting Safe Education for All

Photo via USAID
January 10, 2016

Reflecting on safe education for all during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.

What was school like when you were growing up?  If you attended school in the United States, you will most likely reflect upon days spent in a safe classroom where learning was the priority. For millions of children around the world, this experience could not be further from reality. Violence is an everyday occurrence for many students at and on their way to school. Bullying, sexual assault, physical violence, and emotional abuse are just a few forms of school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) experienced by millions of children around the world. SRGBV includes physical, sexual, or psychological violence or abuse that is based on gendered stereotypes or that targets students on the basis of their sex, sexuality, or gender identities. The underlying intent of this violence is to reinforce gender roles and perpetuate gender inequalities. It includes rape, unwanted sexual touching, unwanted sexual comments, corporal punishment, bullying, and verbal harassment.

Unequal power relations between adults and children and males and females contribute to this violence. SRGBV may be perpetrated by teachers, students, school personnel or community members and both girls and boys can be victims, as well as perpetrators. However, due to the sensitive nature of the topic and the gendered power dynamics at play within schools, the majority of SRGBV goes unreported and unaddressed and can result in serious health and psychological impacts for both students and teachers.

Though data on SRGBV is limited, Plan International estimates that approximately 246 million boys and girls suffer from school-related violence every year, much of which is gender-based violence. Girls are particularly vulnerable to SRGBV. As of 2012, it was estimated that approximately 60 million girls are sexually assaulted on their way to or at school every year. This severely hinders girls’ ability to access a safe, quality, education. Schools can foster the critical thinking skills and development necessary for success but they are also spaces in which social norms and inequalities are learned.

No student should feel unsafe in school, and SRGBV has serious consequences for students’ access to and quality of education and negatively impacts learning outcomes. Failure to address SRGBV will only serve to reinforce the inequalities and gender norms that keep individuals, communities, and entire countries trapped in cycles of gender-based violence.

EnCompass has been working with USAID to address these issues. Under the USAID Advancing the Agenda of Gender Equality (ADVANTAGE) IDIQ, EnCompass developed a toolkit for USAID technical and program officers working on education to increase understanding of GBV and strengthen integration of a gender-based violence (GBV) response into education projects and activities.

Because reducing SRGBV is a high priority for USAID in all school systems globally, Beyond Access: Toolkit for Integrating Gender-based Violence Prevention and Response into Education Projects, highlights SRGBV within its focus on GBV. By integrating GBV prevention and response into education projects, USAID will create safe learning environments that will positively impact girls’ and boys’ enrollment, their quality of education, and academic achievement, resulting in better development outcomes. This will give millions of children around the world the opportunity to feel safe and empowered in their own schools and communities.


Tessie Catsambas

Thank you for this insightful blog, Jennifer! I once heard a comment that education and heath projects ARE NOT gender projects, and so they cannot be asked to consider gender issues except superficially. Your blog shows how much harm you can do in an education project that does not integrate gender considerations. I wholeheartedly agree with you: every child should feel safe in school.

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