Girls experience gender and sexual violence in schools around the world, and South Africa is no exception. Research has shown how learners, and girls in particular, are vulnerable to violence.

Despite the country’s political response to violence against women and girls, school-going girls struggle with male violence in and out of school.

Learners who are victimised at school often show poor academic performance, regular school absenteeism, anxiety and depression, drug and alcohol use, psychological trauma, and dropping out of school.

We conducted a study to learn more about South African teenage girls’ experiences at school. Violence emerged as a key aspect of their school life.

We looked at the spaces where violence occurs, and how the violence is linked to drug use, social inequalities, and construction of gender identity. We found that certain behaviour is tolerated because it isn’t seen as violence. We also reflected on some of the ways the issue of gender violence at school — and beyond — could be addressed.

The violence that girls experienced took various forms, including sexual harassment. It occurred in various school spaces such as the corridors and in an abandoned building on the school premises. The pupils said community violence and theft had resulted in this building becoming dilapidated.

We have five recommendations for addressing school violence.

  • People need to understand that gender power imbalances are a form of violence. They need to know where and when it’s being experienced. Boys should understand that violence includes gossiping, coercion, and sexualised utterances.
  • Schools must take responsibility for the physical environment and identify and manage spaces that increase the risk of violence.
  • The school curriculum on issues of sexuality and relationships must relate more directly to the girls’ everyday experiences of violence at school. A comprehensive sexuality education programme should challenge violence by boys and by girls as it relates to youth sexuality and the dynamics of relationships.
  • Pupils’ use of drugs must be addressed in such educational programmes. In South Africa, personal and private use of dagga among adults is no longer a criminal offence. The availability of the drug in South African communities has implications for children’s access to it.
  • Fifth, schools need to support and act on girls’ reporting of violence. And some research has found that bystander programmes can reduce the normalisation of violence in schools. These programmes encourage passive bystanders to become active by learning to recognise potentially violent or dangerous situations. They empower young people to act more effectively against violence.

Read the full article about gender-based violence by Emmanuel Mayeza at Global Citizen.