Violence against Girls in School: Part 2

The below text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed”: 

“Leading by example

Even if they do not commit such acts against students personally, teachers who do nothing to combat verbal and physical harassment by other teachers and students (usually boys against girls) send out a clear message. Their failure to act is a tacit acceptance of the status quo and communicates to the students – especially boys – what behaviors is acceptable in school.

In the United States, a teacher refused to take action against a male student who was harassing a 14-year-old girl: “I was in class and the teacher was looking right at me when this guy grabbed my butt. The teacher saw it happen. I slapped the guy and told him not to do that and went on with the lesson like nothing out of the ordinary had happened.”

One 13-year-old South African girl explained her disappointment with the inaction of her teachers after two male classmates raped her: “All the people who I thought were my friends had turned against me. And they [the rapists] were still there. I felt disappointed. … If they [the teachers] had made the boys leave, I wouldn’t have felt so bad about it.” The girl stopped attending school because of the incident.

Such dynamics allow abuse to become an integral aspect of school life. Teachers who challenge the behavior of colleagues – by opposing acts of violence or questioning the judgment of those who tolerate it – also risk professional ostracism. Although it is less well-documented, anecdotal evidence suggests that in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, female teachers also are intimidated by sexual violence and harassment. Female teachers in Pakistan who travel each day to work in villages away from their homes, for example, risk verbal harassment and even physical assault from men en route.

The perception of risk to female teachers may be a significant factor in discouraging women from pursuing careers in education. Fathers or husbands my forbid their daughters or wives from teaching because of the threat of sexual violence against female teachers. This can have a negative impact in cultures where girls’ access to education depends on the presence of female teachers. There is also evidence of sexual violence against young women in teacher-education colleges. In one study in Ghana, women said they were intimidated by college lecturers and pressured for sex in exchange for good grades, but this phenomenon warrants much further study in different country contexts.

It would be wrong to assume that the presence of female teachers alone would prevent violence against girl students. If female teachers are marginalized and oppressed by the prevailing gender dynamics of an institution, they may be able to prevent sexual harassment and abuse or provide the support girls need.

In a 2001 study in Uganda, girls felt that female teachers ignored the very real issue of sexual harassment by boys and male teachers in the school: “The [female] teacher themselves do not challenge sexual harassment in school but just choose to tolerate it, thereby giving a helpless situation to the girls.” But when female teachers also are subject to sexual harassment by male teachers and students, there is little they can do to prevent it happening to their students.

A global problem

There is a correlation between a girl’s age and the likelihood of her falling prey to violence at school. Adolescent girls are at greatest risk. Such abuses, however, are not culture-specific. Girls of every ethnic, social and economic group can be targets. Although most recent research has concentrated on schools in sub-Saharan Africa, the problem is not unique to this region. Studies and interventions in North America, Europe, South Asia and Latin America suggest that violence against girls is a problem in schools around the world.

In the United States, a 2001 survey of more than 2,000 students between 13 and 17 years of age found that 83 percent of the girls and 79 percent of the boys had experienced harassment. In the United Kingdom, research conducted with children aged 10 to 11 and 14 to 15 indicated that sexualized teasing of girls by boys in mixed secondary schools is common. Girls explained that boys called them names such as “prossie” [prostitute], flicked their bra straps, looked up their skirts and grabbed and fondled them.

In refugee camps and other conflict-affected settings, abuse of power by men in positions of authority over vulnerable women and girls is also a major issue. Teachers may exploit their status within the community and use their economic power, however slight, to manipulate students, which can jeopardize the future of entire families. Refugee children see education as a critical means to improve their families’ financial situation. Their desperation to succeed in school makes them all the more susceptible to abuse.

In a 2001 survey of 560 secondary-school girls in Botswana, 67 percent said that they had experienced unwanted touching, pressure for dates and other forms of sexual harassment. For 25 percent of them, this was a regular occurrence. A report in 2002 found that girls at refugee schools in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia were subjected to abuse and exploitation, often by their teachers. The study revealed that in most cases good grades were exchanged for sex. The problem was widespread and integrated into the culture of the schools, in part because there was no system of checks and balances to protect the girls.”

All text is copyright (IRIN). Full permission is given for reproduction for non-commercial purposes.





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