Children, particularly girls, in Malawi’s primary and secondary schools face high levels of gender-based violence perpetrated by other students and by teachers. This violence comes in the form of both physical and psychological abuse and extends beyond the school environment. Outside the school and within the larger community, girls also fall prey to their peers and older men and are additionally subjected to abusive behavior in the home, negatively affecting their educational attainment and progress, as well as their mental and physical health.

In 2003, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) enlisted the help of DevTech’s experts to implement the Safe Schools Program, a pioneering, evidence-based initiative designed to reduce school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV), improve educational outcomes, and reduce negative health outcomes in Malawian schools. We worked to increase advocacy at the national level to prevent SRGBV, improve systematic prevention and response mechanisms at the institutional and community level, and improve self-efficacy at the individual level. Along with implementing programs to accomplish these objectives, we engaged in comprehensive quantitative and qualitative research to fully understand the details of SRGBV in Malawi. We found that:

  • These findings show that several types of abuse in schools do indeed have a basis in gender norms and perpetuate gender stereotyping, as much of the blame for abuse is placed on the girls.
  • Interventions must address community-based issues in addition to school-related factors if they are to successfully tackle SRGBV. Dialogue should be opened with initiation counselors and religious leaders and parents and community members should be sensitized and mobilized to work with schools to minimize children’s exposure to risk.
  • Teachers are often seen as key instruments for change, but this study clearly shows that teachers’ attitudes and behavior are not only significant obstacles to stamping out abusive behavior in schools, but that they can reinforce and perpetuate the problem. More importantly, teachers do not see themselves as enforcers of gender-based stereotypes in school or as perpetrators of SRGBV. All teachers should be given opportunities to reflect on their own gender-related experiences and beliefs.

This study illustrates that Malawian communities, pupils, and teachers do not have a full understanding of gender and gender-based violence. However, while this study highlights several issues of concern, it also identifies strengths upon which efforts can be built to ensure that schools in Malawi are safe, that all boys and girls have equal opportunities to learn, gain skills through classroom and extracurricular activities, and are psychologically, sexually, and physically safe from threats, harassment, or harm in all parts of school.

DevTech has 30+ years of experience implementing projects that improve job outcomes for youth, expand access to quality education for elementary and secondary school students, contribute to early childhood development and learning, build the capacity of individuals, organizations, and systems, and combat gender-based violence to ensure that all students feel safe. Accordingly, with funding from USAID, DevTech was able to provide comprehensive insight into the school-related gender-based violence affecting Malawian students to begin to work toward a safe, inclusive community for all. To learn more about this project and DevTech’s capabilities, please visit the page for this project.