The first time I heard about School Related Gender Based Violence (SRGBV), I went into defensive mode, because I couldn’t agree with what was being talked about as something true. My view was that it targeted our male teachers.
When our women’s coordinator briefed the staff at Basic Education Teachers’ Union of Zambia (BETUZ) about the concept of SRGBV and how it affected learner performance, I indicated to her that children in schools do not know about gender and that the concept did not exist in our schools in Zambia.
My position as a trade unionist was that ensuring the dignity of our teacher members was priority and must be protected, and that anything that comes out to show that teachers were acting unprofessionally was not to be tolerated by the teachers’ representatives, their trade union.
But due to the women’s coordinator’s engagement and insistence that schools needed to be safe and that a lot of unprofessional acts happened in schools, I gave the issue the benefit of the doubt. I indicated that we needed to understand the concept clearly and that we must make sure that the interest of our members are protected.
I further indicated to the coordinator that we needed empirical evidence for us to be strategic in our engagement against SRGBV. But at the back of my mind was that we can’t bite the finger that feeds us and we needed to buy time.
I recommended that we needed to conduct a study in order to understand the concept and if at all it existed in our schools, to know how to tackle it.
The baseline survey was agreed upon and clear research procedures and tools were developed by the union. It was agreed that the study would be carried out in all 10 provinces of Zambia.
Union provincial structures were identified to be the lead research teams for data collection and a questionnaire was agreed as the main data collection tool. Three questionnaires were developed: one for head teachers/principals, one for teachers and another of learners.
When the questionnaires came back from for analysis, the results were shocking. The study showed that different forms of SRGBV were prevalent in most Zambian schools. it was very clear that SRGBV was real and that a lot of wrong things were being done by our members. It was clear that our members were involved in acts that were against the expected code of conduct for teachers and that this could lead to their loss of employment. The study clearly showed that the teaching profession was at risk and that as teacher trade union leaders we needed to take action to stop SRGBV.
The baseline study showed that SRGBV not only affected learners but that some of our teacher members were also victims. Some teachers indicated that they were no longer interested teaching in their current stations because the working environment in schools had become hostile.
The key forms of SRGBV that the study showed included: sexual advances from teachers to learners, sexual advances among teachers and administrators, indecent dressing, bullying, abusive language from teachers and administrators to mention but a few. The revelations to me were a clear testimony that the fight against SRGBV was an emergency for me and my union.
One finding from the study which touched my heart was the nonexistence of a reliable support system in some schools for girls who were menstruating. Some girls missed school during their menstrual period for fear of being abused by boys in case they soiled themselves with blood due to a lack of sanitary towels – which some schools did not provide in cases of emergency.
It was at this point that I took SRGBV as part of my union work and I became more interested in the fight against SRGBV. I took it upon myself that we all have a responsibility to make our schools free from SRGBV thereby making them safe for quality teaching and learning for all.
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.