The Small Projects Foundation

Making meaning. Taking action. Changing lives. 

Combating gender-based violence at schools | UNICEF

The Small Projects Foundation

Making meaning. Taking action. Changing lives. 

Combating gender-based violence at schools | UNICEF

We wanted to improve school safety through gender based violence training for schools based in the Eastern Cape. Our programme, which was part of a “Safer South Africa” Programme, integrated a gender component into the already existing Protecting + Bright Futures Programme and Give Yourself a Job Programme, which would be rolled out in 50 schools focusing on 100 girl learners at each school.

The learners were taught about puberty, menstruation, GBV, SRH, prevention of teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS. It focused on both girl and boy learners and involved establishing new GEMBEM clubs and encouraging the members to register their clubs. These clubs will provide learners with a platform to discuss issues and challenges of GBV that the learners are faced with, and will be provided with assistance on dealing with identified issues.

Responses from girls at school

“We now know that you can have a relationship that does not involve sex.”
“We know we have the right to say ‘NO’”
“We must not let boys bully us into having sex with them.”
“Sex is not the only way of showing someone that you care.”
“Dating an old man limits your rights in a relationship.”

Nanga Magadla, our Programme Manager, and her team employed a holistic approach by targeting and including children, parents and the broader community. Our initial target was to reach 140 learners per school; however, this proved to be a challenge due to low school enrolment. Nanga and her team overcome this problem by working with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to identify additional target schools.

Training comprised of the following modules

Puberty
Intimate Relationships
Teenage Pregnancy
Parent-Daughter Communication
HIV/AIDS
Thinking about the Future

 Interviews with six of our facilitators revealed that since their training, they had either initiated or continued their training in their allocated school at which they spend between two to three days per week facilitating one hour sessions with grade seven to nine learners. All of them had set up between one and five GEMBEM Clubs although club attendance by members is not always on a regular basis at all the schools. Whilst support from the principal and life orientation educator was cited as a critical enabler for rollout, the biggest barrier had been the cultural norm of keeping quiet around GBV related issues.

“Children were lacking in confidence and did not want to participate in the clubs. There was a lot of stigma we had to deal with as they were scared of talking to one another.”

SPF Facilitator


One of the gaps we recognised as a result of this intervention was that when cases are reported, the support from the system is limited and often leads to secondary victimisation.

“They said we must report to the teachers and parents. Reporting to the teacher does not help. Reporting to the police also does not help. Reporting can sometimes make life more difficult. The boy will come back being more vicious. The best is to pretend everything is going well.”

– Learner, GEMBEM Club, Eastern Cape


These findings highlighted that we need to work with stakeholders such as the SA Police Services (SAPS), the Department of Social Development (DSD) & organisations dealing with gender based violence in the community. This will strengthen referral mechanisms for learners so that they have access to information on services. It also highlights the need for us to work with both prevention and response structures to ensure that support is in place when there is an increase in reporting.

Studies undertaken as a part of our programme revealed that positive changes in ‘help seeking behaviour’ had taken place as a result of the programme by children who have been victimised.

“For the past three years I could not share my problems with anyone. I was abused at home by my own mother who is an alcoholic … she used to call me slut and said I love men and sleep with them and would use money to buy alcohol and accuse me of stealing her money. I reported this to the GEMBEM members who helped me to report it to the principal and I have now moved to live with a relative.”

– Focus group learner, Eastern Cape

Learners turn to GEMBEM clubs for support when they are victimised, proving that the clubs play an important role in strengthening the protective environment for children at school. The presence of our facilitators in schools two to three times per week also strengthened the much needed support base for children who are victims of violence.

“There has been a change especially for the girls. They are coming forward to talk to me and ask questions which is an indication that they need someone to talk to as they are scared to talk to their teachers and parents about certain things.”

– SPF Facilitator

Since we introduced the clubs, the schools have reported fewer incidences of teenage pregnancy and drug abuse. Learners have also shown a lot of interest and are hungry for more information. A startling result was that almost all of the girls did not know that they had no obligation to engage in sexual relations when they are dating. Many of the girls thought that by virtue of dating, one must have sex with their partner. The majority of the girls had no knowledge of statutory rape and poor knowledge of how a female conceives. There were also myths on traditional methods of preventing pregnancy and many had siblings who fell pregnant at a young age.

Our achievements so far

Girl learners are now able to talk about puberty and there has been a noticeable change in the way they view menstruation and the changes that come with puberty.

Girl learners have been empowered enough to say ‘NO’ to sexual relations that they do not wish to be involved with. Many girl learners initially thought that by virtue of dating they were obligated to engage in sexual relations and have since learned that that is not the case.

Girl learners are now aware of statutory rape; a concept that they didn’t know about before.

Many girl learners had very little knowledge on how a female conceives which has since been turned around. Myths surrounding traditional methods of preventing pregnancy were also corrected which empowered the learners with knowledge on how to prevent teenage pregnancy.

Significant improvements in the girls communicating and dealing with their parents.

Many of the learners and especially those that come from child headed households or who have family members living with HIV were excited and hopeful and are learning that there is life after a positive HIV test result.

Better support from parents in terms of supporting and guiding their children to fulfil their career aspirations and dreams.

Significant decline in school teenage pregnancies.

Improvements in school toilet cleanliness.

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