Civil society shifts cultural norms about gender-based violence using research

By: Giovana Modé,Nelsy Lizarazo Posted: 09 March 2023

By Giovana Modé and Nelsy Lizarazo. This blog was originally published on the Global Partnership for Education website.

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Credit: CLADE

To mark International Women’s Day, GPE is pleased to launch a series of blogs focusing on how the partnership is advancing gender equality, within education and through education.

In our first blog we welcome CLADE, a network of civil society organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean, which addresses gender violence by leveraging GPE’s Education out Loud and Knowledge and Innovation Exchange initiatives in their work with schools and communities.

The urgency to eliminate all forms of violence against children, including gender-based violence taking place in and around schools, cannot be underestimated. Education is a pathway for changing norms and behaviors and advancing gender equality.

School related gender-based violence transgresses the psychological, physical and sexual integrity of students. It includes, but is not limited to, verbal and sexual assault, sexual abuse, corporal punishment and intimidation, having its root causes connected to gender norms and stereotypes. Frequently it is aggravated by socio-economic conditions, gender, age, ethnic, disability or national origin.

Gender violence against children and adolescents is prevalent across the region, and not specific to just a few countries, affecting both girls and boys. In Honduras 16% of women and 10% of men aged 18-24 years old experienced sexual violence before they were 18 years old. In Haiti 26% of women and 21% of men experienced sexual violence.

The gravity of this challenge led the Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education (CLADE), in alliance with Alternatives, to seek innovative approaches to connect participatory action-research with national level policy advocacy. The initiative provides an opportunity for local communities to become their own agents of change, with CLADE’s member education coalitions in HondurasHaiti and Nicaragua as facilitators.

Cultural shifts, safe environments, implementation and enforcement of existing laws and effective support and responses are ultimately needed to profoundly transform the dynamics that give rise to violence against children and adolescents, including gender-based violence.

This initiative, supported by the Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX) and Education Out Loud, is having an impact on challenging practices that were previously normalized, a key barrier for the human right to violence-free education, particularly in rural schools where these norms are more strongly entrenched.

Cultural shifts from and through the communities

The focus of the initiative is to change practices in and through the communities, building on local evidence, and to understand how gender-based violence is expressed in rural contexts. The data is produced collectively with communities; everyone is called to participate: teachers, families, and particularly students.

The methodological route, which is also a pedagogical process, is based on the Participatory Action Research model, which is closely linked to social transformation and has been used for decades in Latin American and the Caribbean.

The project mobilizes experiences, promotes a critical reading of contexts and builds strategies for change for the prevention of gender-based violence, led by the communities themselves.

Focus groups and perception surveys implemented during the first year of the project helped the research team generate and mobilize local knowledge.

The research found throughout the three countries that sexual violence and physical punishment persist, together with a high tolerance of gender stereotypes that reproduce inequalities, violence and early pregnancies. The research also points out the fragile channels to report acts of gender violence and the general weakness of the State´s response to cases referred.

Breaking the silence and co-creating prevention strategies

The research builds on the culture and context of each community in the three countries for the co-design of short-, medium- and long-term actions.

In the commune of Saint-Michel de l'Attalaye, in Haiti, physical punishment as an accepted practice reaffirms gender stereotypes. The commune suffers from a low literacy rate and grandparents play an important role as childcare providers.

As a response, the research team and the community have implemented strategies to raise awareness through radio campaigns, improving dialogue and awareness among parents, grandparents and the local authorities.

In Ojojona, Honduras, the presence of harassment and intimidation against adolescent girls, the absence of channels for dialogue and the increasing number of cases of sexual aggressions against Garífunas and Lenca people, have showed ethnicity as another factor of vulnerability that must be taken into account.

In the research site in Nicaragua, a key issue is the perception of insecurity on the road from home to school. One immediate action to be implemented by the communities is to ensure companions walk girls from home to school and vice versa.

This research initiative is also helping break the silence within the communities. The spaces for dialogue are vital to examine narratives that produce and reproduce violence, and to shift cultural patterns and practices.

For example, in Nicaragua, the implementation of a survey on the perception of school violence among adolescents found that students were able to recognize situations of violence such as bullying, humiliation and physical punishment. Recognition is an essential first step in overcoming dynamics of discrimination.

Advocacy for violence-free education

This initiative falls on fertile ground for action. The national education coalitions conducting the research use the findings to influence policy in their countries and to participate in processes of institutional strengthening and advocacy at the regional level.

This convergence between research and advocacy opens opportunities for innovative strategies based on local research and territorialized data on gender-based violence in rural schools.

In Honduras, the coalition will use the research findings to influence national and municipal education policies and will promote the use of this participatory approach with other civil society organizations.

In Nicaragua, the coalition is working with a local partner to foster a community movement of adolescents against violence in rural areas.

In Haiti, the use of community radio and teacher training are part of a strategy to raise awareness with communities and local representatives of the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training.

There is no single path to go from research to advocacy to action. The best path depends on the context. However, the more the process is connected to the communities and their experiences, the better the possibilities for change.

To learn more about the initiative, stay tuned to the CLADE’s website where a regional research report will be published later this month.