By IGLYO, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & Intersex Youth and Student Organisation
Yesterday was International Women’s Day. Not just a day-long celebration, International Women’s Day is also the occasion to draw attention to inequalities faced by women the whole year, including lesbian women, bisexual women, trans women and intersex women, or LBTI women. When we take a closer look at women and girls in educational settings, this day should be a collective call to action for international institutions, national governments and education institutions to protect and advance the fundamental rights to education, health and safety of all learners. We believe this day is an opportunity to take stock of the current situation for all learners and look at what still needs to be achieved.
In 2019, the Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union conducted a survey on LGBTI people, with almost 140,000 people, out of which more than 68,000 responses were young people (aged 15-24). The final report of this study showed that, across all LGBTI groups, trans youth is experiencing the highest rates of discrimination and harassment. In 2020, we partnered with the GEM Report in a policy paper, Don’t Look Away, showing that half of LGBTI students reported having been bullied in the past year. In 2020, IGLYO conducted a further survey to look at the experiences of LGBTI youth in schools and received similar results. The final report of this study draws a bleak picture of school conditions and climate for LBTI women and girls. Our results reveal that trans respondents, specifically trans girls, had been harassed and discriminated against more frequently than other LBI learners.
As described by UNESCO, school violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics is a form of school related gender-based violence. It describes physical, sexual and psychological violence and bullying and, like other forms of school-related violence, can occur in classes, playgrounds, toilets and changing rooms. IGLYO’s study shows that a significant proportion of LGBTI students experience this type of gender-based violence in schools. In particular, 87% of trans girls are exposed to frequent negative remarks about who they are, and 94% of trans girls have experienced some sort of school bullying based on their identities.
Schools and teachers also play a critical role in preventing and addressing this type of violence. The study shows that, although teachers are present in over half of the incidents of verbal harassment, they tend not to mediate. Less than 7% of respondents said that teachers intervened usually or always. When asked about their direct relationship with teachers, less than one in ten trans respondents declared that other school staff would always respect their name and pronouns when engaging in a conversation with them. Similarly, 82% of trans respondents reported that some school spaces (like gymnasiums or toilets) were segregated by gender and could not use facilities in line with their gender identity. This lack of support from education institutions may be linked with the high rates of school-based violence experienced by trans girls.
Violence and harassment are not the only barriers to education that trans girls experience in schools. Despite visible progress in many European countries on inclusive education, most school curricula and learning materials neither convey positive messages nor avoid negative representations and stereotypes about LBTI girls. IGLYO’s study shows that most people never received positive information on gender identity and gender expression in schools. Less than one in five respondents reported having been taught positive representations of trans people systematically. Likewise, seven in ten respondents felt that their teachers were not open to discuss gender identity or gender expression in schools.
IGLYO’s Inclusive Education Study made five recommendations for reducing discrimination faced by trans girls:
Protect trans girls’ rights with anti-discrimination legislation and policies to tackle school bullying and harassment. Young trans girls remain at a high risk of experiencing bullying and harassment in schools. IGLYO calls on governments to design and effectively implement anti-discrimination legislation. Furthermore, states should enact strategic national policies to tackle school bullying experienced by trans girls. IGLYO also calls on European institutions to develop minimum standards for the implementation of a comprehensive response to this type of gender-based violence in education and asks schools to have clear and widely promoted policies and procedures on preventing and addressing bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics.
Monitor the prevalence of violence experienced by trans girls and provide information and support. Assessing the prevalence and impact of this type of gender-based violence in schools is necessary to plan effective interventions, as well as implementing support systems for any person who has experienced it. IGLYO calls on national governments to engage in systematic trans-specific data collection to assess the extent to which learners are experiencing gender-based violence in schools, and to provide adequate support to implement aid services and community spaces for trans learners.
Implement inclusive curricula. Positive representation in school curricula is crucial to the educational experience of trans girls. However, school curricula that convey positive images of trans people remain scarce. IGLYO, therefore, calls on national governments and school systems to ensure that trans experiences are reflected across the curriculum, or that, at least, they are included in key subjects that are made mandatory for all students, such as sex and relationships education or human rights education.
Address gender identity and gender expression in schools. This is an ongoing task that needs to incorporate a proactive approach from educational institutions. This process includes not only understanding and supporting trans learners but also identifying areas of change at school and adjusting accordingly. Many learners are excluded from physical education classes, sports teams, class trips, and other gendered activities and are not safe in gendered spaces (such as toilets, gymnasiums or showers), which only adds to the detrimental effects on wellbeing caused by discrimination, bullying and other unfair treatment.
Respect learners’ gender identities, name and pronouns at school. Across Europe, there is a lack of gender recognition procedures for children and young people in educational settings. Many trans people are in the process of exploring their gender identity while at school and feel pressure to hide or disguise their gender identity to their school peers and teachers, due to fear of bullying or unsupportive peers as well as staff. Educational institutions need to ensure that the gender identity and chosen name of trans people are respected by everyone and within all school related documentation.
Education sectors are responsible for providing safe and supportive learning environments for all children and young people. When schools are unsafe environments for trans girls, they are being denied their fundamental rights to education, health and safety.