Gender-Based Violence and the Importance of Safe Learning Environments for Youth

Schools can play a critical role in protecting children and youth now — and in the future

Dec 4, 2018 · 4 min read
Schoolgirls in Nigeria / Creative Associates

According to the World Health Organization, one in three women will experience violence in their lifetime. This demonstrates how prevalent and widespread gender-based violence is. It transcends borders and cultures and affects millions of people every year, particularly women and girls.

Gender-based violence has adverse psychological, economic and health consequences. Intimate partner violence is one of the most common forms. Young women and girls are also disproportionately victims of sexual violence and harassment, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, and child marriage, among other types. Gender-based violence can happen anywhere: in the home, at school, in the workplace, hidden, and in plain sight.

School-related gender-based violence is also a very real phenomenon that often prevents children from learning and thriving. Boys are more likely to be absent from school as a result of bullying, and girls are more likely to be absent from school as a result of sexual violence.

Girls soccer in South Africa / Holly Powers/USAID

Education is critical in preventing gender-based violence. Education is also linked to better health, higher income, and greater gender equality — each additional year of school can increase a woman’s earnings by 10 percent to 20 percent. In addition, education helps young people know their rights, and learn how to get help if they need it.

Providing children and youth a safe space to learn is essential. This includes safe transportation to and from schools, healthy relationships with teachers, and a positive school climate that is free of fear, violence and exclusion. Within that safe space, boys and girls can learn to relate to one another in safe and complementary ways. Children and youth can also learn basic life skills such as enhanced communication, conflict management, and problem-solving skills. These dynamics can help shift harmful gender and social norms that underlie gender-based violence.

Education is an essential element in preventing gender-based violence — and in supporting countries on their journey to self-reliance.

Parents and community members often provide essential support in ensuring that all children — especially young girls — are in school and safe. In Rwanda, a USAID activity involving fathers in their children’s education is encouraging parents to send their children — both boys and girls — to school. Parents talk to other parents about the importance of education and creating a peaceful home environment so children can study. The result is that their children are learning to read, and recently won a district reading competition.

Young girls and boys participate in a reading club in northern Rwanda’s village of Gafumba as USAID Senior Gender Adviser Yolande Miller-Grandvaux, far right, looks on. / Martin Tindiwensi, USAID

Keeping young girls in school also has health benefits. In Malawi, the USAID-funded DREAMS (determined, resilient, empowered, AIDS-free, mentored and safe) initiative is encouraging girls to pursue their dreams, stay in school, and stay safe. Maggie, who became pregnant at a young age, has, as a result of the program, gone back to school and got herself tested for HIV. She is now a peer educator for DREAMS and encourages other girls to stay in school and to get tested so they know their health status.

A group of women sing in Malawi. / USAID

In places where conflict and violence are common, it’s important to promote education on gender-based violence to reduce the stigma of victimization within the community, to take collective action against harmful gender and social norms, and to empower youth to recognize, address and prevent acts of gender-based violence. In the DRC, a USAID-funded counseling program supported an 11-year-old survivor of gender-based violence by working with the local community to fight stigma, and to help her resume a normal life, including going back to school.

Left: A girl reads in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo. / Julie Polumbo/USAID. Right: USAID-supported interventions are combating sexual and gender-based violence through confidential medical care, counseling, legal help, and community discussion groups. / Morgana Wingard/USAID. Below: Young women walk down a road in Malawi. / USAID

When children and youth have access to quality education that is equitable, safe, empowering and promotes their social well-being, it provides them with opportunity. Education is not only an essential element in preventing and addressing gender-based violence, it is also a critical way in which USAID supports countries around the world on their journey to self-reliance.

About the Authors

Yolande Miller-Grandvaux is a senior gender adviser and Laura Lartigue is a senior communications adviser in USAID’s Office of Education.

Read more about USAID’s work to prevent and respond to gender-based violence and the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.

U.S. Agency for International Development

Stories of USAID’s Work from Around the World

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