The links between education, violence, and wellbeing

Living a life free from violence is a basic human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is central to the Sustainable Development Goals. In the last of three blogs about the new GEM Report Gender Review, we consider the role of education in ensuring that girls, boys, men and women are able to go about daily life without the presence or threat of physical, sexual or emotional violence. This can otherwise be called having ‘gender-equitable relationships’, which our recent Gender Review says are essential for good health and wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities. Good quality education can help foster such relationships, and help maintain peaceful societies.  It’s yet another example of how education and other sectors can work together for sustainable development.

1Working with adolescents is crucial for gender equality. 

In adolescence, young people are forming ideas and behaviour around gender and identity and are often under pressure to engage in sexual activity and intimate relationships. Comprehensive sexuality education in schools, for both boys and girls, can help young people develop gender-equitable attitudes towards relationships and sexual behaviour. It also helps prevent early pregnancies, promotes respectful non-violent relationships, and can help young people navigate the information available to them online. A 4 year programme in Kenya working with men on responsible sexual behavior, for example, saw pregnancy rates drop by two-thirds.

2Outside of relationships, education is well proven to improve family health and well-being.

More educated mothers are more likely to seek prenatal care, birth attendance by a trained medical practitioner, immunization and modern medical care for their young children – and are likelier to protect them from health risks by, for example, boiling water and avoiding unsafe food.  The GEM Report shows that achieving universal lower secondary education for women in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 would prevent between 300,000 and 350,000 child deaths per year by 2050.

3Similarly, though, education through campaigns can also help fathers take more positive involvement in family and child care. This can be important for the welfare of children and mothers, as well as fathers themselves. In South Africa, for example, one initiative, called the Fatherhood Project, which encourages men’s active caregiving and protection of children, reported that male participants spent more time with their children, were less violent towards their partners, and assumed more household responsibilities.

Interpersonal violence and armed conflict are serious barriers to gender equality

The costs of violence and conflict are high. The death toll of disputes between individuals, including domestic violence, is estimated at nine times that of war and other such conflicts. Both women and men suffer from violence across the world but men overwhelmingly hold and use the means of violence. This is not to say all men are violent, but social norms about masculinity and male sexual entitlement play a central role in fuelling violence.

Gender-based violence is a significant issue in poor and rich countries alike. Around one-third of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives.

Education, gender and violence intersect in multiple ways

Education’s relationship with violence is complex because education can incite violence at the same time that it can help prevent it. Schools can be sites of violence. Threats to personal safety on the way to and from school, as well as in school, obstruct girls’ and boys’ access to education. Deliberate destruction of education facilities has been a longstanding practice in conflicts. Shockingly, girls’ schools were targeted 3 times more often than boys’ schools between 2000 and 2014.

Such violence clearly disrupts schooling. Across 18 sub-Saharan African countries, gender-based violence – as measured by intimate partner violence, early marriage and female genital mutilation – was shown to have a negative impact on girls’ schooling.

But education can also help counter these occurrences. Analysis of 120 countries over 30 years found that countries were less likely to experience violent conflict if their populations had higher levels of education.

4School-related gender-based violence needs to be eliminated

As we have shown in previous policy paper, gender-based violence occurring in and around schools is serious and widespread. It severely undermines gender equality, and affects girls’ and boys’ education. Some countries have well-established monitoring mechanisms to collect data on school violence, but overall, consistent evidence is lacking. We will be releasing a new policy paper looking at new indicators to measure SRGBV in November to contribute to this on-going conversation.

Textbooks and curricula can help address gender-unequal attitudes

New analysis of curricula for our Report showed that many countries are overlooking gender-based and intimate partner violence. Fewer than 15% of countries’ curricula frameworks include material on gender empowerment and only half mention gender equality. The issue of child marriage is poorly addressed or omitted in countries where it is most prevalent, including Kenya and Malawi.

Often teachers are not using gender sensitive language either, calling for better classroom observations to monitor what and how our children are being taught. In Malawi, for instance, over a quarter of almost 5000 teachers of grades 1-3 were found not to use gender-sensitive language.

Good quality gender-sensitive education can challenge violence and help build peaceful, inclusive societies

5Education has huge potential for reducing intimate partner violence. The cross-national International Men and Gender Equality Survey showed that men with less education expressed discriminatory gender views and were more likely to be violent in the home.

Program H, a well-known non-formal education programme, works with men aged 15 to 24 to challenge and transform gender-stereotypical attitudes. Launched in 2002, it operates in over 22 countries, and has been adopted by health ministries because participants report lower rates of sexual harassment and violence against women, and more gender-equitable attitudes towards domestic work and caregiving.

We have two key recommendations in this regard:6

  • Improve our understanding of teaching practices inside the classroom by using monitoring tools of classroom dynamics. More comprehensive data on gendered aspects of curricula, textbooks, assessments and teacher education are also needed.
  • Build consensus on what aspects of gender sensitivity in teaching practice should be included in classroom observation tools.


  1. Wonderful post, I really like your concept about education. I am sure it will help parents and they will surely read this blog. Thanks for sharing such a great blog with us. Keep Sharing

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