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UNESCO and UNGEI convene Asia-Pacific Learning Symposium to End School-Related Gender-Based Violence, April 2023 | #schoolsaftey

The symposium’s dialogue focused on four ‘key pillars’ that constitute a comprehensive approach to addressing SRGBV as advocated by UNESCO and the UN Women Global Guidance on the SRGBV theme: Leadership, Environment, Prevention, and Evidence. Framing discussion on the symposium’s opening day, data from the Asia-Pacific region reminded participants that gender has a strong influence on the patterns of violence in schools; who experiences such violence; and how this violence manifests in both learning and well-being of the persons who are impacted. Highlighting the prevalence and impact data from global and regional perspectives, and examples of how data and research on SRGBV inform policy and programme responses, experts emphasised the need to consider gender in identifying and addressing school violence, as well as the role of technology in enabling new forms of violence—noting that additional and higher-quality evidence in this domain is needed. This is true of both quantitative and especially qualitative data, including data on young people’s experiences of gender-based violence in learning settings in Asia-Pacific, some examples of which were spotlighted by Ms Priyanka Pal, Youth Coordinator of the Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education (ASPBAE).  

Participants agreed that all SRGBV prevention approaches must be gender-transformative and gender-inclusive. Panel discussion and plenary reflections reaffirmed that supporting teachers through partnerships, quality materials and teacher training to increase knowledge and skills on gender-related issues are essential, as is harnessing the power of curriculum, teaching and learning to challenge harmful social norms and foster gender-equitable social attitudes and behaviours. An immersive activity led by Professor Helen Cahill, Emeritus Professor of the University of Melbourne, Australia, allowed participants to experience and then debrief together on a simulated-classroom lesson on social and emotional learning for respectful relationships, which was sampled from UNESCO and partners’ ‘Connect with Respect’ curriculum tool.

Establishing secure and positive school settings is a shared responsibility for everyone involved in the education process. The symposium showcased real-life examples of practical approaches towards achieving this goal, which were presented by participants from Bhutan, Mongolia, Nepal, and the Philippines. Such practical approaches included local teams supporting schools; assessments to address SRGBV on the basis of sexual orientation gender-identity and expression (SOGIE); child participation; and comprehensive counselling frameworks.

Participants also agreed that community engagement and learner-centred approaches that promote inclusive education are powerful ‘essentials’. An inspiring session on embracing diversity and promoting inclusion in SRGBV programming highlighted strategies of five different organisations on the symposium’s second day. As noted by Mason Trinh, Health Program Coordinator of Lighthouse Social Enterprise, Viet Nam, ‘It is crucial to keep challenging teachers and empowering them to continue SOGIE sensitisation among teachers. Being challenged, teachers can realise that they should be more inclusive of students, and they can influence other teachers.’

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