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Gender Violence and Schools: A South African Study

A study at the University of South Africa, “The Consequences of School Violence for Female Learners,” aims to find a synergistic approach to making schools safer for female students. Although the study took place in South Africa, the recommendations and problems are both globally applicable. Think the problem is unique to other countries? Think again:

 A study in the USA found that 83% of girls in grades 8 to 11 (aged around 12 to 16) in public schools experienced some form of sexual harassment.

This quote from a male student from Limpopo province in South Africa shows just how bad the problem is:

 There is sexual harassment at the school and girls wear short dresses, and they do not wear underwear. And it disturbs me as I do not concentrate well in class, and I want to touch.

Victim blaming is a common theme when it comes to gender-based violence, but coming from a student it is indicative of the larger problem in societies around the world.

The study isolated a few key impacts for the female students:

1. Student Performance: Constantly being violently abused (both rhetorically and physically) discourages and distracts young learners from their education.

2. School Dropout: Education is seen as the single most important factor in mobility and empowerment. When faced with such violence, it not only sets back the student, but the chance of future change as well. This quote from a teacher in Gauteng Province is saddening:

 A girl was forced to kiss a boy. The more the girl learner refused to kiss the boy, the more the violence. The girl was prepared to give the boy sex and put the problem behind her. I’m not happy because the learner that was violated couldn’t stand the humiliation from other learners; she eventually dropped out of school. Learners are between 14 and 15 years.

3. Physical and Psychological Injuries: Even if a student overcomes these situations in school, the damage is often lifelong and can affect every facet of their future lives.

There are many more gut-wrenching quotes from students and teachers in the article, which I highly recommend you read.  However, the study believes a few steps can be taken to improve the educational environment. Incorporating nonviolence and tolerance in the curriculum, targeting the underlying socio-economic causes, creating a community effort to target the problem, and increased supervision are some of the changes recommend. A further analysis of the effectiveness of each recommendation would be a prudent step for policymakers and educators.

It can seem impertinent when an issue is discussed in the context of a different a country, but it is important to remember that problems of gender violence are still widespread and prevalent. When these problems spillover to the education community, it is even more important for relevant actors to step forward and instigate change.

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Featured Image Courtesy of Flickr User: Arian Zwegers