This week you've heard about the launch of the A Girl's Right to Learn Without Fear: Working to End Gender-Based Violence at School report and about school-related gender-based violence globally.
Today we're turning our focus back to home turf, to think about gender-based violence in and around schools in Canada. Canadian children are by no means immune from the issues of gender-based violence we've been discussing this week. While the majority of Canadian schools have worked to create safe and caring learning environments, we must confront the fact that Canadian children, particularly girls from marginalized communities, remain vulnerable to different forms of violence within their school lives, including physical abuse, sexual violence and bullying. As is the case globally, boys are at a higher risk of physical violence, while girls are more likely to experience sexual violence and social or indirect forms of violence.
Here are five areas that Canada needs to work on to stop school-related gender-based violence:
1. Girl-to-girl bullying: The numbers on bullying in Canada are sobering: the World Health Organization ranked Canada 27th lowest out of 35 countries for its bullying victimization rates. Girl-to-girl bullies often use exclusion, manipulation and gossip, rather than physical violence, to put other girls down in what is known as "relational violence". Today's technology allows a lot of this social bullying to be carried out online. Social bullies are unlikely to get caught as their harms aren't as visible as the wounds of physical attacks. However, research presented in the report – and the recent example of Amanda Todd – make it clear that this type of violence can be no less destructive than physical forms of bullying. Relational violence can damage self-image; destroy social relationships; result in intolerable levels of loneliness, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. This can lead to less satisfaction with school as well as greater school absenteeism. In the worst cases, it leads to suicide.
2. Sexual violence: Sexual violence remains a serious issue in this country. Nearly 25% of Canadian school age girls and at least 15% of boys have experienced sexual violence before they reach the age of 16. All too many Canadian children regularly suffer sexual touching, harassment, and online sexual exploitation as part of their everyday school experience. Of 1,800 Grade 9 girls inOntario, 46% had suffered sexual comments, jokes, gestures, or inappropriate looks. This form of violence too often goes unnoticed. It may simply become part of going to class every day, with girls concluding that this is the way they should be treated.
3. Aboriginal young people: Aboriginal girls share many of the same concerns as other girls in Canada but they also face unique challenges tied to far-reaching and harmful effects of the residential school system, socio-economic disparity and other unique challenges. For instance, there are consistently lower educational attainment rates and high rates of violence among young Aboriginal boys and girls. In 2006, 29% of Aboriginal teen boys and 28% of Aboriginal teen girls were no longer in school, compared to 19% of their non-Aboriginal counterparts across the country. However, we only have a snapshot of the violence suffered by girls and boys from marginalized communities. More work is needed to understand Aboriginal children’s, and particularly girls’, specific experiences of school-related gender-based violence.
4. Sexual minority youth: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer (LGBTQ) students in Canada are suffering from frequent incidents of verbal, physical, and online violence within their school lives. One national survey of 3,700 students across Canada found that 74% of LGBTQ students report having been verbally harassed about their gender expression. 21% suffered physical harassment or assault, and 28% were victims of cyber-bullying. Unsurprisingly, 64% of LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school, compared to 15.2% of their heterosexual peers.
5. The role of men and boys: Gender-based violence can be perpetuated in different ways and by different people, including men and boys. But, we also know that men and boys can play more positive roles. Men and boys – in their roles as grandfathers, fathers, brothers, peers, mentors, teachers, principals, coaches, religious leaders, law enforcement personnel, and policymakers – can support efforts to cultivate a school culture and community environment that condemns violence and promotes the value and rights of girls and women. This is why one of the report's key recommendations is to engage whole communities – including men and boys – in efforts to address gender-based violence.
Which of these five areas do you think is most important to ending school-related gender-based violence in Canada?
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