We cannot continue to address issues concerning young people without involving young boys and girls. Gender Based Violence (GBV) in and around schools is a worldwide problem with serious implications for the educational attainment, health and well-being of boys and girls. The deeply rooted cultural norms in South Sudan further aggravates the problem. The physical and psychological abuse inflicted either consciously or unconsciously by students on other students makes their stay in school unattractive, some end up dropping out and can leave long-lasting scars invisible to the eye. It’s important to raise awareness at a tender age to shape the thinking and change the mindsets of boys and girls on gender sensitive issues.
“Statements like “she is my daughter, who are you to tell me what to do with her?” are commonly used by South Sudanese parents to disenfranchise the law and anyone else trying to intervene”
Crown The Woman-South Sudan (CREW) team with support from the 46 previously training teachers on School Related Gender Based Violence Prevention and Response conducted one day workshops with students (boys and girls) in six secondary schools namely; Promised Land Secondary school, Don Bosco, Juba Day, Juba Diocesan, Nile Model and Juba Commercial Secondary School to create awareness on GBV Prevention and Response. The workshops were headed by the four selected GBV Mentors in each school from the previously trained teachers. The workshops started with the introduction and understanding of GBV, this was followed by watching Crown The Woman GBV prevention produced film as a case study that was used to initiate discussions on GBV Prevention and Response mechanisms from the students’ point of view. The last activity was establishment of GBV Prevention clubs. The clubs are headed by the leadership of the president, the vice president, secretary, Treasurer and information minister selected democratically by the students.
The objectives of forming these clubs are to;
• To raise awareness, shape the mindsets of students especially boys and make them drivers of GBV Prevention and Response beyond their school-walls.
• To create linkage and GBV reporting mechanism from students to their elected leaders to mentors/teachers and CREW
• Create an avenue for the trained teachers to constantly integrate their acquired knowledge into their everyday teaching culture.
In as much as the students were so responsive and curious to learn more about GBV, it wasn’t a smooth process at all. There is still a lot to be done to change the mindsets of students and have them understand that GBV does exist and has serious implications on the victims. It’s difficult to convince a culturally “empowered” young South Sudanese boy that his sister or fellow female student is equal to him, some boys continued to make sexist jokes during the sessions. Some of the students shied off when their teachers were around and this limited their participation and opinions on SRGBV that occur in their schools/communities. Almost all schools had no large conference halls that can accommodate all or at least half of the students, that forced us to divide them up and handle them differently which greatly affected our initially planned joint interactions. Some of the trained teachers were Arabic speakers, most students wanted English language to be used during the sessions so this was another challenge. Did I mention the fuel crisis? Oh yeah, the lack of fuel in the whole of Juba and the insanely high black-market rates really delayed and made some of our activities nearly impossible to achieve on time.
Teachers are not only stakeholders but custodians, capacitating them and giving them power to have a say in decisions affecting their students is very vital. Statements like “she is my daughter, who are you to tell me what to do with her?” are commonly used by South Sudanese parents to disenfranchise the law and anyone else trying to intervene. A teacher from Promised Land Secondary school was successfully able to talk a parent out of forcefully marrying off his daughter (a student) a few days after the teachers completed their Five Days Training on GBV/SRGBV Prevention and Response. Early forced marriage is one of the main challenges to girls’ education in South Sudan. There is need to empower the right direct stakeholders in the education system to enable them protect these students especially the girl child.