The topic of gender-based violence is not covered in regular school curricula, which hinders efforts to prevent this increasingly common practice in Bosnian society. Education professionals, the non-governmental sector, and human rights activists agree that the fight against all forms of violence must be a part of everyday life, especially in communication with children and young people. Here, parents play an important role, in addition to educational institutions.
Reports of gender and sexuality-based violence are steadily rising each year in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is to say that we are increasingly aware of this ongoing practice. “We live in a time when people are discriminated against on the basis of gender, and I am sure that this is most difficult for children,” said Amira Huskić, a student at the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Sarajevo, who is actively fighting against gender-based violence.
The United Women Foundation from Banja Luka has been involved in the prevention of gender-based violence for years, working directly with children from first to ninth grade, as well as with teachers and professional staff in suburban schools in Gradiška and Banja Luka. “Schools do not promote the prevention of gender-based violence, nor is the topic addressed through regular schooling,” said Dragana Miljević-Miljković, a social worker at the United Women Foundation in Banja Luka. She also notes a need to train teachers and school staff on matters related to gender-based violence and its prevention.
Helpline and anonymous reporting box
Safvet-beg Bašagić Elementary School in Breza strives to incorporate the campaign against all forms of violence into the everyday activities of its students, acknowledging that schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina are often left to their own devices and initiative when it comes to this sensitive issue. “Every school is obliged to promote equality and equal rights for all, regardless of religion, race, nationality, or gender. The real question is how much we know about whether everyone feels equal, as well as how much we research such issues,” says Mersiha Šehić, the principal of Safvet-beg Bašagić Elementary School in Breza.
In 2016, the handbook “Prevention of Gender-Based Violence in Schools: A Handbook for Teachers and Professionals in Primary and Secondary Schools”, was published as part of joint initiative of Sarajevo’s Women to Women Association, Banja Luka’s United Women Foundation, Tuzla’s Amica Educa Association, the organization Women’s Voice from Bihać, the Derventa Women’s Association, and the IN Foundation (INF).
Among its various insights, the handbook emphasizes the need to develop mechanisms for reporting and monitoring gender-based violence in the school environment. This would include a code of conduct outlining the obligations and procedures for confronting gender-based violence, not only for principals, teachers, administrators, and support staff, but also for students and parents.
The handbook also recommends that schools establish committees and groups dedicated to the protection of school children from gender-based violence, as well as helplines and anonymous reporting mechanisms for victims and witnesses of violence. Additionally, the handbook identifies the enormous benefits that learning skills such as non-violent communication and peaceful conflict resolution can have for both male and female students.
Homeroom class meeting
Principal Šehić suggests a concrete possibility of introducing topics of gender-based violence in school curricula through the homeroom class meetings. In this setting, anti-violence initiatives can be connected with historical and civic education, leading students to research examples of gender-based violence through different time periods.
“It is possible to study the Convention on Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and especially the Istanbul Convention from 2011. Such content enables students to make comparisons between society in the past and society today, to determine the factors that led to prejudices, as well as those that broke them, “said Šehić.
Student Huskić supports the introduction of topics related to gender-based violence in school curriculum, in order to raise at least a little more awareness about the problems that concern young people, our environment, and the world.
According to Miljević-Miljković, parents can be a significant resource in the fight against gender-based violence, because the immediate family provides the formative basis for child development. “Children retain their upbringing from home, as well as negative and positive patterns of behavior. But these patterns can also change if there are positive models of identification within the school,” said Miljević-Miljković.
Šehić also points out the importance of the family in the development of each individual, explaining that “even schools themselves cannot work well without the engagement of the family in the upbringing and education of children and youth.”
“It can happen that the family is a risk factor for the child. In that case, the obligation of the school is to recognize this, to protect the child, and to cooperate with the competent institutions in the child’s best interest,” said Šehić.
Given that there are many NGOs with experience working with and preventing gender-based violence, they too can be a valuable resource in violence prevention. For this reason, according to Miljević-Miljković, schools should recognize and respect these institutions. “In that way, children, teachers, and professional staff within the school would be better equipped to modify their work and adapt it to the modern school system.” Miljević-Miljković went on to emphasize that these measures would directly affect the recognition and timely response in instances of violence.