DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
WITH ZI now in the throes of SEA preparation for March 2022, and with us managing all the anxiety which people critique every year, I’ve started thinking about secondary-school choices, what we know about gender and violence in secondary schools, and what would enable her to feel safest and least bullied.
I’ve also been working on integrating gender-based violence awareness into the health and family life (HFLE) curriculum, and I am deeply aware of how much public advocacy is needed to counter resistance to teaching about gender and sexuality in adolescent lives. Caribbean research can valuably strengthen activist calls for acceptance, support and education that protects adolescents from vulnerability to discrimination, homophobia and sexual violence.
Just last month, the Silver Lining Foundation (SLFTT) published its 2019 Bullying and Gender-Based Violence in Secondary Schools Report, with support from the European Union Delegation to TT and the Sexual Culture of Justice Project. Whether as an activist or parent, there’s much that’s useful in its findings.
The survey measured the types of bullying to which students are subjected and those they perpetrated, as well as students’ sense of personal safety, self-esteem and empowerment. A total of 2,284 surveys were collected from 42 secondary schools across TT.
Most of the participating students were in third form and half were from nuclear families. Most identified as Christian, heterosexual and mixed-race (with about 33 per cent of Indian descent and 20 per cent of African descent). Boys and girls were fairly equally represented.
What emerged from this study is that violence perpetration is higher by boys and victimisation is higher among girls. Boys may also be victims and girls perpetrators, but the inequalities we are trying to transform are apparent by adolescence.
Physical assaults, pushing and hitting were perpetrated and experienced more by boys than girls. Greater percentages of boys than girls reported being touched in private body areas without consent and receiving sexually explicit gestures, although boys also did most of the touching.
Boys engaged in more teasing and name-calling than girls, based on others’ appearance, race, sexual orientation and religion, and were more often victims of such teasing on the basis of their abilities or inabilities. Boys were more likely to use cell phones and social media for teasing, name-calling and starting rumours, and engaged in ostracism of peers at higher rates than girls.
About two per cent of boys had forced someone to perform sex acts on them or others, and girls were more likely to be forced to perform sexual acts and to experience verbal abuse and insults if they turned down a sexual advance. Girls were slightly more likely to be targets of teasing because of their appearance, and the subject of name-calling and rumours through use of cellphones and social media, and were more often ostracised from social groups.
Significantly, sexually explicit comments were made at a slightly higher rate online and on phones than in face-to-face contact.
At least one in five students surveyed reported experiencing physical violence at school and just less than one in three resorted to hitting and pushing others. As well, nearly one in five students teased others because of how they dressed, looked or walked.
While more than 90 per cent did not perpetrate or experience sexual violence, one in 20 students reported perpetrating sexual violence and one in ten experienced sexual violence.
These issues are experienced by both girls and boys, though in highly gendered ways. Comprehensive sexuality education would help these students and create peer environments that nurture protection and prevention.
Good news is that homophobia is waning. Students who expressed same-sex desire, bisexuality and queer desire comprised about one-seventh of the surveyed population, but their reporting of these desires means shame and silence are being broken for another generation.
The majority of students were aware of LBGTQ students at their school and the majority agreed that the LGBTQ people deserved to be treated with respect. Students with positive attitudes towards LGBTQ people were less likely to engage in bullying.
Ahead of religious leaders, parents and politicians in Cabinet, 64 per cent of students noted the value of sex education for helping them feel prepared for sexual situations and reducing challenges regarding consent.
As this report shows and as I’ll be writing about again, without comprehensive sexuality education, students rely on peers (46 per cent), media (45 per cent), or pornography (30.7 per cent) to answer questions.
This kind of data is crucial to understanding how we can and why we should make our children feel safe in schools.
Diary of a mothering worker