Violence in schools is a public health risk

2017-12-03 06:01


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For a few weeks in August, I was haunted by a video showing a girl in a blue school uniform being hit to the floor and then kicked in the back and in the head.

A month later, I was shocked, saddened and, more than anything else, angry at sadistic gropers, paedophiles and sex predators assaulting our pupils and students. Worse still is when these crimes are committed by people who are supposed to protect pupils, such as the school guard accused of sexually abusing more than 80 children at a Soweto school.

As embarrassing as it is to deal with cases of sexual abuse in our schools, and as bad as it makes us look, resignation and giving up are not the answer to the problem.

As we mark the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign, we remain mindful that violence against women worldwide causes an incalculable number of deaths and injuries to women – more than we can ever know, due to the nature of these crimes.

In many of our schools, teachers have sexually harassed and abused children in their care. Over the past years, we have adopted laws and policies to address this grave human rights problem but, unfortunately, sexual violence and assault persist in our schools with disquieting regularity. However, thanks to government efforts, slowly but surely, violence against women is being understood as a serious and widespread human rights concern. This year, South Africa’s 16 days campaign will be held under the theme Count Me In: Together Moving a Non-Violent South Africa Forward.

Violence against women is a worldwide phenomenon. Nevertheless, there is still a tremendous silence on the part of society regarding this problem, and it is usually excused as a private matter.

Violence is clearly a violation of the security of a victim and is cruel, inhumane, degrading and torturous.

It feels like there are many ways to justify not speaking up when you suspect someone is being abused. The excuses include: you never really know what happens in a relationship, you don’t want to sound judgmental, or you’re just minding your own business.

But really, what’s worse: saying something and being wrong, or being right but keeping quiet and something horrible happens?

Violence against one is violence against all

Violence against one is violence against all, because it shatters the peace of all and their oneness and wholeness. Violence against women is a symptom of a broken humanity.

Patriarchal cultures condition men to treat women as property or as a means to obtain property. Matriarchal cultures treat men as errand boys. Either brings out different kinds of aggression, which need to be looked at critically.

Faced with challenges that undermine the foundations of our society, we must maintain our commitment and fight for our values. Combating violence against women is one of those values.

In the Gauteng department of education, we believe that, since male aggression starts early, it has to be dealt with at an early age in the classroom. We need to instil a culture that says it is not manly to be aggressive. We need to insist on the power of love. Thus the process of male socialisation has to be emphasised in subjects such as life orientation.

School violence, weapons in schools, assaults, fights and bullying all impact on children’s ability to function in school. I will never forget the incident when a Grade 2 pupil brought a loaded gun to school to shoot a bully he claimed had been tormenting him.

We must combat cultural attitudes and behaviour that condone or excuse violence against women in our communities and girls in our schools.

As we work hard daily to help women and girl victims of gender-based violence, we can all benefit from the following guidelines from civil society organisations, women’s movements and others:

  • If a father, brother, friend, classmate or team-mate is abusing a woman or a girl, don’t look the other way. Don’t remain silent. Lead by example;
  • Have the courage to look inward. Question your own attitudes. Don’t be defensive when something you do or say hurts someone else;
  • If you suspect that a woman close to you is being abused or has been sexually assaulted, gently ask if you can help;
  • If you are emotionally, psychologically, physically or sexually abusive to women, or have been in the past, seek professional help now;
  • Be an ally to women who are working to end all forms of gender violence;
  • Recognise and speak out against homophobia and gay-bashing. Discrimination and violence against lesbians and gays is wrong. This abuse has direct links to sexism;
  • As a learner, read articles and books about multicultural masculinities, gender inequality and the causes of gender violence; and
  • Mentor and teach young boys about how to be men in ways that don’t involve degrading or abusing girls and women.

Violence in schools has become a significant public health risk. It is linked to violence in homes, neighbourhoods and communities. It affects the learning and behaviour of children while at school.

The effects of violence in schools can only be prevented and addressed with the combined efforts of schools and communities. Promoting peace over violence in the school environment requires an intentional, detailed effort over time and education of the community.

Let us live by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.”

Lesufi is MEC for the Gauteng department of education

Read more on:    panyaza lesufi  |  violence  |  women abuse  |  sexual abuse

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