EU moves to change attitudes towards school violence
RUIZ... every young person who engages with this curriculum has the potential to change the narrative that negatively shows Jamaica as a country with a high rate of homicides, femicides and other acts of family violence

The European Union’s top diplomat in Jamaica is banking on a just-released digital companion guide to the Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) curriculum to change the attitude of teachers and students towards gender-based violence on school grounds, especially given the number of encounters that have petrified the nation in recent times.

The material which is the outcome of a partnership involving non-profit group Women’s Media Watch (WMW) Jamaica, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the Ministry of Education under the United Nations Spotlight Initiative was launched virtually on Thursday and is to be made available initially on the UNFPA Caribbean’s web portal at https://caribbean.unfpa.org.

Addressing the launch, Aniceto Rodriguez Ruiz, head of the cooperation, delegation of the European Union to Jamaica, said, “gender-based violence remains a troubling issue globally”.

“I understand that the HFLE material we launched today is culturally sensitive and utilises local scenarios to potentially achieve changes in values and norms. Every young person who engages with this curriculum has the potential to change the narrative that negatively shows Jamaica as a country with a high rate of homicides, femicides and other acts of family violence,” he noted.

According to Ruiz, “Through acceptance of the need for change and intolerance for acts of violence, Jamaica can continue to shine in more positive ways”.

“I hope this HFLE guide will help to facilitate behavioural change that can reshape how our youth and educators think about and respond to gender-based violence,” he added.

School-related, gender-based violence is basically sexual, physical, or psychological violence inflicted on children in and around schools because of stereotypes and roles or norms attributed to or expected of them because of their sex.

In 2018, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) expressed significant concerns about the protective environment that the Jamaican State has created to reduce children’s vulnerability to violence. It said 68 of every 100,000 Jamaican children are victims of violence, even in spaces that should be safe — one of which is school.

A 2020 survey of 515 primary school students featuring students aged 10–16 years, from 16 primary schools, seen by the Jamaica Observer revealed that students have had unwelcome sexual comments made to or about them, have been shown sexually explicit pictures, have been touched in unwelcome sexual ways, or have been exposed to naked pictures or naked bodies and/or forced to do something sexual.

As a result, 60 per cent of students indicated feeling unsafe at school; 20 per cent reported lacking a sense of belonging; 57 per cent referenced feeling depressed while 51 per cent said they felt low self-esteem and low self-worth.

In the meantime, 41 per cent indicated being generally fearful of interacting with others while 69 per cent registered feeling frustration at school and 49 per cent said they felt unable to concentrate on their studies.

On Thursday, Alison Drayton, director and representative for the UNFPA’s Sub-Regional Office for the Caribbean, told the launch that based on empirical data it is an open secret that “gender-based violence is the other silent pandemic that tracks COVID-19”.

“The impact that it (pandemic) has had on the education sector is tremendous, it is even more important a reason for us to be involved in this work with HFLE for the prevention of gender-based violence …and so there is a lot of work to be done,” she stated.

The guide, which contains short stories, comics, notes, exercises and quizzes was developed by WMW Jamaica following a series of workshops with Ministry of Education staff at all levels and youth in 2021, exposing them to the nuances of gender inequality, transactional sex, cyber bullying and intimate partner violence.

Recently, UNICEF Jamaica, in its summary of current state of Jamaica’s education system, raised concern about the issue of safety at school.

Jamaican school children, UNICEF said, are exposed to various forms of violence, including peer-to-peer violence, corporal punishment by teachers, sexual harassment, assault and witnessing of violent acts.

Among those who have been exposed to peer-to-peer violence, one out of three have been in a physical fight and one out of four experience bullying.

“However, even though schools are sites of many incidences of violence they are also well placed to respond, mitigate and prevent violence. This presents opportunities to emphasise capacity building and behaviour change for school administrators and communities using both a hybrid approach of face-to-face and virtual interventions,” UNICEF said.

Alicia Dunkley-Willis

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