The Safe Schools Program: A qualitative study to examine school-related gender-based violence in Malawi
The Safe Schools Program (Safe Schools) is a five-year project under the U.S. Agency for International Development, Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture, and Trade, Office of Women in Development. The objective of Safe Schools is to create safe environments for both girls and boys that promote gender-equitable relationships and reduce school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) by working in partnership with children, youth, parents, teachers, schools and communities.
This report summarizes the results of the participatory learning and action (PLA) research activity conducted in October and November 2005 to help raise awareness, involvement, and accountability at national, institutional, community and individual levels of SRGBV in the Machinga District in the Southern Region of Malawi. Altogether, 952 pupils participated in the PLA workshops. The focus group discussions included more than 2,000 participants. In addition, 370 key informants including traditional leaders, initiation counselors, members of school management committees and parent teacher associations, head teachers, government Primary Education Advisers, religious leaders, members of the school disciplinary committees (where these existed) and club patrons were interviewed.Key findings include:
- Based on the most common responses from pupils, parents and school committee members, the concept of gender-based violence is not clearly understood. Many of those in the study emphasized general ill treatment—physical abuse, punishment or denial of rights—without any specific mention of gender dynamics. While teachers, and head teachers in particular, had a clearer understanding of the concept of gender and gender-based violence, many concentrated on physical or sexual violence, without recognizing the different forms of psychological violence such as emotional or verbal abuse.
- When asked to discuss the effect of SRGBV on victims, boys and girls indicated that pupils drop out of school from fear of punishment that can be categorized as SRGBV and, in the case of girls, experience further consequences for refusing teachers‘ propositions, in some cases attempted rape. Echoing pupils‘ perspectives, the majority of teachers agreed that high absenteeism and dropping out were common outcomes of gender-based violence in schools.
- Pupils identified the most common form of abuse in schools as corporal punishment. This includes caning, whipping, painful touching and assigning harsh physical labor (for example, digging a hole for a latrine or uprooting a tree stump).
- Pupils, teachers and parents had different views on the effectiveness of the response to SRGBV. In most cases, pupils stated that reporting systems were in effective and the actions taken by authorities were unsatisfactory. In contrast, almost all teachers said that reporting systems were effective and that penalties for abuse were appropriate. Some communities felt well represented by School Management Committees or Parent Teacher Associations, and, when these groups are strong and active, accountability measures were quite effective. Others, however, felt that reporting systems and punitive measures were not effective and stated that they were not fully involved as parents, especially when the School Management Committee, Parent Teacher Association and village headman were not strong leaders.