by Yohannis Benti (Ethiopian Teachers Association)
The reason I am writing this story is to increase awareness of the complexity of SRGBV. My other reason is to let others know that it is possible to measure violence and take strategic action corresponding to the level of violence noticed/identified.
SRGBV requires concerted efforts under the leadership of teacher organizations. I believe that teachers have a primary concern to create conducive learning environments for their students. Teachers’ organizations, education officers, community and local stakeholders, need to understand the difficulties involved in SRGBV and also need to fulfil their social responsibility to act individually and collectively to end violence in schools and violence against women in society in general.
Ethiopian Teachers Association (ETA) apart from defending education and members’ rights also deals with student issues based on the principles provided in its articles of association. In other words, ETA is expected to create conducive learning environments for students in general and for girls in particular. School related gender based violence is one among the issues ETA is concerned with in order to create a conducive learning environment for students.
School related gender based violence (SRGBV) is such a broad issue that it could be visible and invisible. The challenge is to be able to exhaustively list the types of violence happening in schools and beyond. On the one hand, students do not clearly report the violence that has happened to them. On the other hand, some violence was considered normal since they happen to exist since ancient times and had deep roots in the culture of the society. This requires mobilizing the school community and beyond. Mobilizing out of school community or local stakeholders is very important since cultural practices exist in the wider community.
ETA decided that a starting point in addressing SRGBV was to survey the types of violence and how the school community understands SRGBV. Therefore, two university staff, one man and one woman, were hired to conduct a survey in seven secondary schools randomly selected out of the 32 pilot project schools at national level selected based on three predetermined criteria: schools led by women principal/deputy principals, reported violence, and the number of female students.
While the researchers came out with various recommendations, two of their recommendations requested immediate action. One is to be able to self-measure the status of violence in schools and the other is to come up with life skill manual to enable students to be assertive and positively defend themselves.
With regard to measuring the status of violence, there was a debate among participants drawn from ETA members and stakeholders who were called to validate the survey. One of the debates was whether it is possible to measure violence. Though there was no consensus among participants, the ETA leadership pushed the matter for further consultation. Experts were hired to find a solution to the challenge. The experts came up with a manual which enables measurement of the status of violence in schools, known as school violence index (SVI). The manual incorporates four dimensions, each one constituting measurable tools drawn from the survey.
Three groups of the school community – students, teachers and school administration – were trained to measure violence. After finishing the measurement, the three groups sat together and discussed in order to reach consensus. Through this process, the status of violence of a school was measured.
Measuring the status of violence is not enough. The wider community needs to contribute its share in supporting the school to mitigate the problem. Hence, the status of violence of the school was presented to relevant local stakeholders in order to make them aware of the situation and get their commitment towards contributing their share. Those stakeholders were parent-teacher-student association leader, local education officer, the police, justice officers, Children, youth and women affairs, and communication officers. The participants were inspired by the activity and agreed to meet quarterly to evaluate the improvements made in mitigating school violence related to gender.
Although ETA’s activity to fight SRGBV was in place before the EI and Gender at Work initiative, the concept of a “change team” which came during the “Hearing Our Stories” workshop really helped in intensifying the activity. In addition, the peer learning sessions deepened my knowledge and enabled me to learn from other contexts. Our work on SRGBV was institutionalized through the change teams established from national to local levels. ETA’S Change team constitutes four people. Two were from ETA headquarters, one from Ministry of Education, and one a woman lecturer from Metropolitan University. The team guided the process of establishing a system/strategy to take action against SRGBV.
The two manuals-SVI and life skill were shared with ETA and education office structures including some schools. The SVI manual is specifically shared widely including with the International Working Group to end SRGBV.
A number of success stories as a result of the activity can be shared. For example, school principals committed themselves to include issues of SRGBV in their annual school plan and to allocate the necessary resources to mitigate the problem. Policeman and judges we have worked with have made shifts in their thinking. A policeman confessed that he had done an injustice to a victim by convincing a victim who had been married by force to remain married rather than take the matter to an attorney. A judge, who was part of a workshop to discuss a school where violence had been measured, came to the realisation that he had given perpetrators minimal sentences due to his minimal attention to violence. The Children, Youth and Women affairs officers promised, in front of workshop participants, to meet quarterly with the school principal to identify a common agenda and to act jointly.
ETA signed a memorandum of understanding with the state Minister of higher Education in November 2014. The memorandum is an agreement between ETA and the Ministry to prevent gender based violence, and as article 6, sub article 6.2.9 of the agreement states, ”To follow up and create conducive conditions as well as prevent gender based violence on women teachers and girls”. This provision is very important since leaderships of the two institutions will now plan accordingly and take the necessary actions. It also gives an opportunity for the victims to bring reported cases to the concerned authorities. ETA follows the ‘zero tolerance’ principle in this regard.
The views, opinions and words written in the article are solely those of the author. The article reflects the author’s journey, view point and progress in their own words.