INTERNATIONAL YOUTH DAY  - Transforming Education: a blog series

Transforming education, a GBV perspective”

Words by Rugare Shalom Zimunya 

Gender-based violence (GBV) refers to “any harm or suffering that is perpetrated against a woman or girl, man or boy and that has a negative impact on the physical, sexual or psychological health, development or identity of the person. The cause of the violence is founded in gender-based power inequalities and gender-based discrimination. It is the most extreme expression of unequal gender relations in society and one of the most widespread violations of human rights. While GBV disproportionally affects women and girls, it also affects men and boys. These abuses take place all over the world in homes, schools, work-places and communities.

GBV is preventable and education and educational institutions can play a central role in ending GBV. While strides have been made in Africa over the years, significant transformations are still required to make education systems more inclusive and accessible. Indigenous youth, young people with disabilities, young women, young people belonging to vulnerable groups or in vulnerable situations are facing additional challenges to access education that respects their diverse needs and abilities as well as reflects and embraces their unique realities and identities. Schools, from primary level to higher educational institutions, vocational training and non-formal education, are important sites for normative change and have the potential to address gender inequalities and prevent GBV. The potential for young people to act as agents of change provides one of the greatest hopes for achieving the social transformation necessary to end GBV and can be unlocked through high-quality, gender sensitive education.

Gender based violence has been a drawback to a transformative education system and this has presented itself in many forms including forced child marriages, which prevent girls from continuing with school; school related GBV (SRGBV) such as sexualized bullying, sexual harassment, forced sexual acts in exchange for good grades or male dominance or aggressions within the school environment. SRGBV makes it impossible for girls to participate fully and fairly in school.

Impact of education on GBV

Education increases women’s employment opportunities and socio-economic status. The empowerment of women reduces the unequal power relationship between women and men which has been identified as the root cause of GBV. It is therefore necessary for schools and other educational institutions to apply strategies to prevent and respond to violence. Here, teachers play a key role and the introduction of gender-responsive champions in the education process, as does comprehensive sexuality education in the school curricula. This can help unlock the potential of schools as sites for empowerment of girls and boys and for the prevention of GBV.

Involvement of local communities and parents through parent teacher associations to educate and change attitudes and behaviors on a societal level is also key in ensuring a transformed education system.

Lastly, it is important to ensure that educational institutions are held accountable in their preventive work in transforming education.

“Transforming education” in the Context of Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)

Words by Augustine Kumah

Between the ages of 10 and 24 years young people across the globe undergo life-changing transitions that affect their social, economic and health horizons, often for the rest of their lives.  Making up majority of the world’s population, their future is heavily influenced by structural factors, such as national wealth and income inequality, and by access to education and employment. It is also determined by social norms and critical power relationships operating at personal, family, and community levels. Collectively these structural and social forces may impede or accelerate the fulfilment of their rights

In the year 2000, world leaders agreed on the vision for the future --- a world with less poverty, hunger and disease, greater survival prospects for mothers and their infants, better educated children, equal opportunities for women and a healthier environment; a world in which developed and developing countries work in partnership for the betterment of all.

The sustainable development goal (SDG) 4 seeks to ‘’ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning for all’’. Education is both a goal in itself and a means for attaining all the other SDGs. It is not only an integral part of sustainable development but also a key enabler for it. Education is a ‘development multiplier’ in that it plays a pivotal role in accelerating progress across all 17 SDGs, be it poverty eradication, good health, gender equality, decent work and growth, reduced inequalities, action on climate or building peaceful societies.

Education should therefore, not to be denied young people but rather, it should be made available, equitable and accessible for all, including education on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). Unfortunately, education on SRHR have and still in most countries not given much attention due to the widespread misconception that providing education on SRHR will encourage adolescents/youth to engage in early or risky sexual behavior. There is this deep-seated discomfort about adolescent sexuality which contributes to legal and social barriers to the provision of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE).

We need to understand that, we cannot exclude CSE from our educational curriculum since CSE equips children and adolescents with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will empower them to realize their health, well-being and dignity; develop respectful social and sexual relationships; consider how their choices affect their own well-being and that of others; and understand and ensure the protection of their rights throughout their lives. Every young person will one day have life-changing decisions to make about their sexual and reproductive health. Yet majority of adolescents lack the knowledge required to make those decisions responsibly, leaving them vulnerable to coercion, sexually transmitted infections, forced marriage and unintended pregnancies.

As we celebrate the International Youth Day, let’s be reminded that our children, boys and girls need to be in school. Governments need to place education as a priority in both policy and practice and make firm commitment to provide free education to all, including the vulnerable/marginalized groups.

We need to include education on sexual reproductive health and rights in our Educational curriculum and integrate CSE into all forms of trainings both in and out of school and must be tailored to the specific context and needs of young people. Out-of-school programmes including community-based training and education, often aimed at adolescents/young people most in need of information – such as married adolescent girls, homeless youth, migrants and refugees, youth in remote rural areas, and those living in conflict zones should be provided in our communities.

We need to prioritized, engage and ensure youth participation to harness our demographic dividend. Realizing a demographic dividend requires multiple investments. The most essential are building the capabilities of people and ensuring their rights and freedoms to achieve their potential. Young people therefore, need the chance to gain the education and experience to succeed in a competitive global workplace, which demands more skills, education and technical expertise than ever before. The fulfillment of human rights – including sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights – is therefore essential for any society to achieve a demographic dividend. This is why SRHR education is needed for adolescents/youths to know and demand for those right.

Let’s always remember that making SRHR education more relevant, equitable and inclusive is crucial to achieving sustainable development.