Friday 14 November 2008

Learn without Fear

Plan International, in co-operation with the University of Sussex Centre for International Education, hosted the conference Learn without Fear – Looking at Violence from the Gender perspective in Hamburg, 12-14 November. I came across the conference announcement a couple of days earlier via a google search on „sexual violence at schools“ and „Africa“, and spontaneously decided to jump into a train to Hamburg to meet some of the people known in the field – Fiona Leach, for example, who has published on gender and education, or Peter Newell, Co-ordinator of the Global Initiative to End all Corporal Punishment of Children. Unfortunately, I could only attend the 13 November sessions. But that was extremely enriching.
My personal favourite was the presentation by Sara Humphreys, who explained violence as a complex gendered phenomenon. Adopting Judith Butler's concept of gender which emphasises „performativity“ (i.e., you are not „given“ a certain gender by „nature“; you perform it), Sara Humphreys sees the „traditional“ teacher's role as essentially masculine, displaying the attributes societies connect with masculinity: authority, knowledge, being active, freedom of movement (the teacher may walk around as she pleases; the students are not allowed to get up spontaneously). Students, on the other hand, are traditionally expected to be „feminine“ in that they keep quiet, receptive, obedient, listen to the teacher. This may explain why boys tend to lean more towards disruptive behaviour at school than girls. Teachers need to be aware of their own genderedness and recognise gender differences rather than create gender oppositions.

Action Aid, Agro Action (Welthungerhilfe), Amnesty International, FAWE, the Inter-Agency Working Group on Children's Participation (ECPAT, Knowing Children, Plan, Save the Children, UNICEF, World Vision), Plan, Sussex University, UNRWA, USAID, various initiatives at German schools and probably others I overlooked, provided ample documentation on their work on safer schools. In most cases, gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual violence are subsumed under broader programmes to end violence at schools including corporal punishment and bullying.
At first sight, it seems there is scope for deepening work on international instruments – for example, combining campaigning on Education for All (EFA) with a call for fuller enforcement of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), reminding States that children's health and well-being, as enshrined in the CRC, cannot be sacrificed to EFA. Using the concept of passive enforcement developed by Charles Shamas, „Northern“ NGOs could hold their own governments accountable for omitting to exercise due diligence when funding education programmes abroad which fail to adequately protect childrens' rights.

Last but certainly not least, I have been delighted to bump into an old acquaintance – Salina Sanou, who now co-ordinates the FAWE regional programme in East and Horn of Africa. The best thing is, we'll be on the same flight to Nairobi coming Sunday!

PS. FAWE = Forum of African Women Educationalists. In 2005, I evaluated the work of their Sierra Leone chapter, on the other side of the continent, on behalf of CORDAID. I was impressed by FAWE's pioneering initiatives with former girl soldiers, young single mothers and other marginalised children.

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