Victims without voice: measuring gender-based violence in schools
By: John Van Dusen
ACCRA – It was only after the third girl was raped the school took notice.
“If it had been one student who had been saying it, we would have thought it was a fabricated story. But five or six girls mentioned the same issue where a school administrator raped three girls,” said Jamilla Ariori.
Ariori, with the Human Rights Advocacy Centre in Accra, said an alarming number of rapes in Ghanaian schools are never reported. Of those that are, very little changes.
“The last girl that got raped got pregnant. And she was trying to abort it,” she said. “They dismissed her for getting pregnant and also for trying to abort it.”
Ariori said that’s when it came out that the administrator was responsible.
“Before he could be axed, he ran away from the school,” she said.
Ariori led a two-year study on the prevalence of gender-based violence in schools. She surveyed students and teachers in the Greater Accra, Volta and Eastern regions.
The results showed that half of the students interviewed reported incidents of sexual touching. One in five students surveyed said rape had occurred.
In one case in the Eastern Region an “influential person” in society raped a 13-year-old.
“Nothing was done about it,” Ariori said, adding that those responsible are rarely held to account.
“She reported it to the Girl’s Education Officer for the district and the lady reported it to the police and then this person was arrested. But after a month or two (the victim) saw the person in the community. No one did follow ups.”
Ariori said in some cases following a complaint, a teacher is transferred to another school.
In other instances, the perpetrator pays off the family and the case is dropped.
“And that’s what I’m suspecting happened. And the girl doesn’t know that her family has taken money,” she said.
In other cases, Ariori said parents encourage their daughters to do favours for the teacher, hoping it will result in a marriage proposal. In one village, she said male teachers were complaining of parents pressuring them to marry the girls.
“The parents would push their daughters to run errands for the teacher, cook for the teacher,” she said. “Because they feel that if he’s a teacher, he’s reputable, so he’s good for my child.”
Ariori said a number of teachers are not aware of the formal procedures in place in the event of an incident. Each region in Ghana has a Girl’s Education Officer. There is also a teacher’s code of conduct, but Ariori said it’s not being used and not a single school was able to produce a copy.
“You wouldn’t find a uniform procedure that all schools are using,” she said. “We’re suggesting the ministry should adopt our procedures so that every school would have that process.”
That would include annual training for students and teachers on gender-based violence, a third-party – outside of the school system – where children could report incidents, as well as counselling for victims.
Ariori wants the government to implement a standardized approach and raise the number of gender-based violence incidents reported to authorities.
It has already caught the attention of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection.
Sylvester Kyei-Gyemfi heads the ministry’s research and advocacy division. He said the results from the study are “thought-provoking,” and with more research it could influence government policy.
“The issues raised are so many and they are so dimensional,” he said.
“The first step is identification and once you have identified it, it tells you you need to do something.”
Ariori said it’s not just schools that need guidance. She said everyone – parents, police, the government and the community – has a role to play.
“It comes from the culture,” she said. “We have to change our way of thinking. But in time, we’ll get there.”