I en värld där 1 av 3 kvinnor globalt har upplevt fysiskt eller sexuellt våld, där fem kvinnor dödas varje timme av någon från sin egen familj, och där bevis tyder på att sexuella trakasserier är skämmande utbredda, är det av yttersta vikt för det Internationella samfundet att agera. Broken Chalk ser det brådskande behovet av att ta itu med det genomträngande problemet med könsbaserat våld, vilket också återspeglas i utbildningssammanhang. I skolor är sexuella trakasserier och psykologisk mobbning en utbredd verklighet; flickor hindras från att genomföra sin utbildning på grund av barnäktenskap och våld i sina egna hem eller våld på väg till skolan.
Förvärrat av de samverkande effekterna av COVID-19-pandemin, klimatförändringar, ekonomiska kriser och politisk instabilitet har detta våld en direkt påverkan på deras utbildning, vilket hindrar deras njutning av mänskliga rättigheter. Risken för våld avskräcker föräldrar från att skicka flickor till skolan, särskilt i konfliktsituationer, där de under sin resa till skolan fruktar möjligheten till överfall och bortförande. Det är empiriskt bevisat att offer för övergrepp har mycket högre avhopp och svårigheter att lära sig. Det utgör ett allvarligt hot mot könsjämställdhet och stärkandet av kommande generationer kvinnor.
I denna situation är det nedslående att observera det faktum att endast 0,2% av det globala officiella utvecklingsbiståndet riktas mot förebyggande av könsbaserat våld. Därför anser Broken Chalk att påverkan av våld mot kvinnor och flickor (VAWG) är djupgående och sträcker sig bortom fysisk skada för att påverka samhällets grundvalar och hindra utveckling, ojämlikhet och fred.
VAWG har en kostnad för samhället i allmänhet och flickors utbildning i synnerhet, och det förblir därför en utbildningsprioritet. För det första har exponering för våld från en intim partner, eller hushållsvåld, dokumenterade negativa effekter på barns akademiska prestationer och beteendemässiga utfall. UNICEF rapporterar att det är kopplat till lägre ordförråd och numeriska färdigheter i åldrarna 5 till 8. För det andra utgör våld mot kvinnor en av faktorerna varför flickor inte kan få tillgång till utbildning: över hela världen är 129 miljoner flickor utan skolplats. Personlig osäkerhet i skolan eller social stigmatisering och skam efter att ha upplevt sexuellt våld förklarar delvis detta. Flickor och kvinnor som upplever psykologiskt våld kan också vara utan skola som ett resultat av påtryckningar på dem.
Broken Chalk erkänner också trakasseriets genomslagskraft som en form av våld mot kvinnor. I Europeiska unionen har 45 till 55% av kvinnor upplevt sexuella trakasserier sedan 15 års ålder. I England och Wales visade en utredning 2021 att 92% av kvinnliga studenter bekräftade att de hade fått sexistiska kommenterar från sina skolkamrater, och 61% av kvinnliga studenter rapporterade att de hade upplevt sexuella trakasserier mellan kamrater i skolan. Risken att uppleva våld i skolan eller på väg till skolan kan avskräcka flickor från att delta i utbildningen. För att svara på detta har flera länder som Ghana och Indien experimenterat med program som tillhandahåller cyklar till flickor för att erbjuda ett säkrare transportalternativ till skolan.
Även om arbete har lagts ned på att eliminera VAWG så visar ovanstående fakta att mycket mer arbete behövs. Broken Chalk tror att utbildning är avgörande för att arbeta mot elimineringen av VAWG, eftersom många studier har visat att det är just i utbildningsmiljön där barn exponeras för våld och där dem lär sig det. Därför är utbildning ett kraftfullt verktyg som kan användas för att förändra kulturen som lär unga och påverkningsbara sinnen hur man beter sig mot flickor och kvinnor på våldsamma sätt till mer fredliga och respektfulla sätt. Dessutom kan utbildning användas för att lära flickor angående våld och höja medvetenheten om vad som utgör våld, något som många flickor inte ens kan börja förstå. På detta sätt är VAWG så normaliserat globalt att offren ibland inte ens inser att deras rättigheter kränks. Detta har en roll i att mindre än 40% av kvinnor som upplever våld söker hjälp av något slag eller rapporterar det, eller finner rättvisa.
Det är av denna anledning som Broken Chalk ansluter sig till de 16 dagarna av aktivism mot könsbaserat våld, vilket är en årlig internationell kampanj som börjar den 25 november, Internationella dagen för avskaffandet av våld mot kvinnor, och varar fram till Mänskliga rättigheternas dag den 10 december. Årets kampanjtema är “ENAS! Investera för att förebygga våld mot kvinnor och flickor”, och Broken Chalk ansluter sig till rörelsen och uppmanar till brådskande investeringar för att förebygga VAWG, med särskild fokus på utbildning för att göra detta. Broken Chalk uppmanar att man tar utbrett perspektiv i utförandet av elimineringen av VAWG. speciellt för att ökaförståelse kring svårigheter och attacker som mörka kvinnor och LGTBQ+ kvinnor utsätts för under deras utbildningar samt vardagliga liv.
Broken Chalk publicerar detta till allmänheten med hänsyn.
Een boek review van het book ‘het leven van Halime Gülsu: de hemelse docent vermoord in de gevangenis (2022)’.
Door Vivien Kretz
Hoe kunnen gevangenen niet ter dood worden veroordeeld, maar toch vermoord worden?
Hoe betalen burgers voor hun leven? Vragen als deze komen op wanneer je over het lot van Halime Gülsu nadenkt.
Geschreven door Zeynep Kayadelen en gepubliceerd door de Amerikaanse mensenrechtenorganisatie Advocates of Silenced Turkey (AST), is het boek getiteld “Halime Gülsu: De hemelse docent vermoord in de gevangenis” gebaseerd op de verhalen van Gülsu’s celgenoten die getuige waren van haar laatste momenten en van haar vrienden en familie. Ze stierf als gevangene in de provincie Mersin in Turkije als gevolg van onvoldoende toegang tot medische hulp.
Halime Gülsu’s verhaal is gereconstrueerd door Advocates of Silenced Turkey (AST), een Turkse NGO. Auteur Zeynep Kayadelen leidt haar werk in met een voorwoord: “Wij zijn vele malen gestorven” (Kayadelen 2022, 9). De hopeloosheid schemert door in haar woorden. Ze draagt dit boek op aan alle mensen die een pijnlijke dood hebben geleden terwijl zij vochten voor een zaak waar ze om gaven.
In haar ontroerende roman beschrijft Kayadelen het trieste lot van Halime Gülsu, een toegewijde docent die in Turkije les gaf en deel uitmaakte van de Hizmet-beweging. Deze beweging wordt beïnvloed door de ideeën en doelen van geleerde Fethullah Gülen. De Hizmet-beweging streeft naar een vrijer, rechtvaardiger en duurzamer Turkije.
Gülsu was een zeer toegewijde docent. Ze gaf les aan haar studenten tijdens haar werkuren en steunde hen toen velen van hen werden vervolgd door het Turkse regime.
Het regime van Turkije werkte tegen degenen die geassocieerd waren met Hizmet en degenen die deel uitmaakten van de beweging. Gülsu en de meeste van haar vrienden verkeerden in een moeilijke situatie. Ze voelde zich voortdurend in de gaten gehouden. Ze wist dat het regime achter haar aan zat en dat ze het niet goed met haar voorhadden. Kayadelen beschreef het als: “Als hun onderdrukking een vuur was, dan was hun vijandigheid de wind die het aanwakkerde.” Toch weigerde Gülsu toe te geven en sloeg ze de kans om het land te verlaten af. Een groot deel van haar familie woonde in Canada, dus ze kon vaak naar het buitenland gaan om haar familie te zien. Ze was echter een zeer trotse Turkse burger en koos ervoor om te blijven en zichzelf te verdedigen tegen het regime. Er wordt meerdere keren in het boek benadrukt dat ze zichzelf zag als een burger van Turkije en ervoor koos om te strijden voor een veelbelovende toekomst voor haar land. De leiders van het regime waren het daar echter niet mee eens.
Op 20 februari 2018 werd Gülsu gearresteerd omdat ze deel uitmaakte van de Hizmet-beweging. Haar arrestatie overviel haar. Gülsu wist dat ze in de gaten werd gehouden, maar verwchtte niet dat ze gerarresteerd en opgesloten zou worden.
Nadat het Anti-Terror Special Forces-team van Mersin haar hele appartement had doorzocht en alles overhoop had gehaald, werd ze gehandboeid en naar de Tarsus-gevangenis gebracht.
Gülsu was niet gezond. Ze leed aan chronische lupus erythematosus, een auto-immuunziekte, en had dagelijks en wekelijks medicatie nodig voor haar ziekte.
Toen de Turkse autoriteiten de docent uit haar huis rukten, pakte ze snel haar dagelijkse medicatie en medische dossiers om mee te nemen. Helaas vergat Gülsu haar wekelijkse medicijnen mee te nemen tijdens haar arrestatie.
Eenmaal in de gevangenis vroeg Gülsu om haar medische documenten, waarin stond dat ze ziek was en haar wekelijkse medicatie en medische hulp nodig had, maar haar medische dossiers waren nergens te vinden. Gülsu bevond zich in een angstaanjagende en levensbedreigende situatie.
Ze werd in een overvolle cel geplaatst met andere vrouwen. De cel was bedoeld voor tien mensen met tien bedden, maar toen ze de cel in ging, was het al dubbel bezet.
Sommige gevangenen hadden baby’s, maar die werden van hen afgenomen. Vrouwelijke gevangenen werden gedwongen hun jonge kinderen naar huis te sturen omdat ze niet voor hen konden zorgen in de gevangenis.
Gülsu maakte alles eerste hands mee: de routines, de onzekerheden en de verhalen van andere gevangenen, maar niet voor lang. Drie maanden na haar arrestatie stierf Gülsu door medische nalatigheid.
Gülsu kreeg geen toegang tot haar wekelijkse medicatie en kreeg geen medische behandeling voor haar chronische lupusziekte. Haar toestand verslechterde en ze ontwikkelde gezwellen en bulten – ze leed vreselijke pijn.
Gülsu werd dag na dag zwakker. Toen haar broer eindelijk haar medicijnen kon brengen, was het al te laat. Gülsu kon de pijn niet meer aan, en de agressieve ziekte was al te ver gevorderd. Volgens medegevangenen en familieleden besefte Gülsu dat haar laatste dagen waren aangebroken.
Na weken van lijden mocht Gülsu eindelijk naar een ziekenhuis, maar het was te laat. Na haar terugkeer naar de gevangenis moesten haar medegevangenen, die intussen zorgzame vrienden waren geworden, haar dragen omdat ze te zwak was om te lopen – ze zorgden voor Gülsu, voedden haar, en baden voor haar.
Helaas stierf ze op april 2018, om 3:10 uur, alleen in een gevangenisgang. “Als een lege cocon bleef haar uitgedroogde lichaam achter, gewoon daar liggend,” schreef Kayadelen in haar boek.
De auteur Kayadelen vertelt het boek vanuit een eerstepersoonsperspectief, wat het voor de lezer gemakkelijker maakt om zich in te leven in wat de lerares tijdens haar moeilijke tijd in de gevangenis moet hebben doorgemaakt.
Kayadelen’s boek is een prachtige leeservaring met een persoonlijk inzicht in wat Gülsu mee maakte tijdens haar laatste dagen. Door meerdere interviews met mensen die in de gevangenis werken en mensen die met Gülsu geaffilieerd zijn, heeft de organisatie de verhalen over haar tijd in de gevangenis verzameld en een sterke achtergrond gecreëerd voor een verhaal dat met het hart verteld wordt.
Kayadelen’s werk is een krachtige stem tegen alle schendingen van de mensenrechten in Turkse gevangenissen. Advocates of Silenced Turkey hebben uitstekend werk geleverd door een klein stukje gerechtigheid te geven aan Halime Gülsu, “de hemelse lerares”.
Dňa 7. októbra, počas festivalu odohrávajúceho sa tesne za hradbami pásma Gazy, spustil Hamas rozsiahli útok proti izraelskému územiu. Táto udalosť si vyžiadala tragickú stratu životov a to viac ako 250 izraelských civilistov, pričom mnohí ďalší boli unesení a držaní v zajatí v enkláve. V reakcií s útokom, Izrael spustil proti-vojenský útok, a to letecké nálety na Gazu a jej pásmo. Tieto útoky majú na svedomí ničivé následky, pričom sa odhaduje že v dôsledku pôvodného útoku Hamasu došlo k približne 3 000 palestínskym a 1 300 izraelským obetiam. Navyše to vyvolalo tragickú humanitárnu krízu pre viac ako 2 milióny Palestínčanov v najhustejšie obývanom meste na svete.
Pri zamyslení nad ľudskými stratami je srdcervúce poznamenať, že od začiatku konfliktu zomrelo v Gaze podľa odhadov ministerstva zdravotníctva viac ako 1 000 detí. Keďže polovica z 2,3 milióna obyvateľov Gazy je mladších ako 18 rokov, OSN a medzinárodné spoločenstvo musia zdvojnásobiť svoje úsilie s cieľom podporiť okamžité prímerie a dôkladne preskúmať dodržiavanie pravidiel medzinárodného práva oboma stranami. Generálny tajomník OSN António Guterres vyzval na okamžité humanitárne prímerie s dôležitým konštatovaním, „útoky Hamasu nemôžu ospravedlňovať kolektívny trest palestínskeho ľudu“.
Výzvy, vyplývajúce z nedávnych rokovaní medzi Spojenými štátmi, Európskou úniou, Izraelom a Egyptom, sú hlboko znepokojujúce. Hlavným cieľom týchto rokovaní je uľahčiť prísun dôležitej humanitárnej pomoci z Egypta do Gazy otvorením hraničného priechodu Rafah; žiaľ, tieto rokovania narazili na značné prekážky, keďže Izrael od začiatku konfliktu 7. októbra štyrikrát zaútočil na hraničný priechod Rafah. Na priechode Rafah uviazli stovky egyptských humanitárnych kamiónov, pričom egyptská vláda tlačí na Izrael a USA, aby uzavreli prímerie, aby sa k mnohým zraneným mužom, ženám a deťom mohla dostať neobmedzená humanitárna pomoc.
Dňa 17. októbra zasiahla masívna explózia baptistickú nemocnicu Al-Ahli v Gaze, kde lekári a sestry ošetrovali zranených Palestínčanov, vrátane žien a detí. Navyše táto nemocnica slúžila aj ako útočisko pre Palestínčanov. Tento incident sa stal miestom s najvyšším počtom obetí zo všetkých udalostí od začiatku súčasného konfliktu, pričom si vyžiadal životy 500 ľudí, ako hlásia palestínske zdravotnícke úrady. Obe hlavné vojenské strany v konflikte, Hamas a Izraelské obranné sily, tvrdia, že za incident je zodpovedná druhá strana.
Keďže tento konflikt vyvolal bezprecedentnú humanitárnu krízu, pri ktorej takmer 2,2 milióna Palestínčanov zostalo bez prístupu k základným potrebám ako jedlo, voda a elektrina, organizácia Broken Chalk vyzýva okamžité kroky na zastavenie prebiehajúcich extrémnych porušení ľudských práv s cieľom dosiahnuť stabilitu v regióne a pre celé ľudstvo. Vyzývame izraelskú vládu a medzinárodné spoločenstvo, aby urýchlenie uzavreli prímerie a umožnili prechod humanitárnej pomoci cez hranicu v Rafahu, a poskytli tak pomoc mnohým vysídleným a postihnutým Palestínčanom. Navyše vyzývame izraelskú vládu, aby prísne dodržiavala pravidlá medzinárodného práva týkajúce sa ochrany nemocníc, novinárov a civilistov. Veríme, že je nevyhnutné, aby medzinárodné spoločenstvo viac kontrolovalo izraelskú vládu a zabezpečilo dodržiavanie ľudských práv. Je naliehavé, aby Izrael zrušil obliehanie Gazy a umožnil prístup vody, jedla, elektriny a paliva do palestínskych nemocníc.
Broken Chalk verejnosti oznamuje s náležitou úctou.
En un mundo en el que 1 de cada 3 mujeres ha experimentado violencia física o sexual, en donde, cada hora, cinco mujeres son asesinadas por alguien de su propia familia y en donde la evidencia indica que la violencia de índole sexual es alarmante, es de extrema importancia que la comunidad global tome acción. Broken Chalk reconoce la necesidad urgente de abordar la recurrente problemática que es la violencia de género, la cual también se refleja en el ámbito educativo. En las escuelas, la violencia sexual y el acoso psicológico son una realidad común; a las niñas y adolescentes no se les permite continuar con su educación debido a matrimonios y/o uniones forzadas, la violencia en sus propios hogares o la violencia que sufren cuando se dirigen hacia sus centros de estudios.
Exacerbada por los efectos combinados de la pandemia de la COVID-19, el cambio climático, las crisis económicas y la inestabilidad política, esta violencia tiene un impacto directo en su educación, lo que obstaculiza su disfrute de los derechos humanos. Los riesgos de violencia disuaden a los padres de enviar a las niñas a la escuela, particularmente en situaciones de conflicto, donde durante el camino a la escuela temen la posibilidad de ser agredidas o secuestradas. Está empíricamente comprobado que las víctimas de abuso tienen tasas mucho más altas de abandono escolar y dificultades de aprendizaje. Esto plantea una grave amenaza a la igualdad de género y al empoderamiento de las próximas generaciones de mujeres.
En este escenario, resulta desalentador observar el hecho de que sólo el 0,2% de la Ayuda Oficial al Desarrollo Global se destina a la prevención de la violencia de género. Broken Chalk reconoce que el impacto de la violencia contra las mujeres y las niñas (VCMN) es profundo y se extiende más allá del daño físico para afectar los cimientos mismos de la sociedad, obstaculizando la igualdad, el desarrollo y la paz.
La violencia contra las mujeres y las niñas en particular tiene un coste para la sociedad en general y para la educación de las niñas en particular, por lo que sigue siendo una prioridad educativa. En primer lugar, la exposición a la violencia de pareja o violencia doméstica ha demostrado tener efectos negativos en el rendimiento académico y los resultados conductuales de los niños. UNICEF informa que está relacionado con menores habilidades de vocabulario y aritmética entre los 5 y 8 años. En segundo lugar, la violencia contra las mujeres constituye uno de los factores por los cuales las niñas no pueden acceder a la educación: en todo el mundo, 129 millones de niñas no están escolarizadas. La inseguridad personal en la escuela o el estigma social y la vergüenza después de sufrir violencia sexual explican esto en parte. Las niñas y mujeres que sufren violencia psicológica también pueden quedar fuera de la escuela como resultado de la coerción que se les ejerce.
Broken Chalk también reconoce la existencia del acoso como forma de violencia contra las mujeres. En la Unión Europea, entre el 45% y el 55% de las mujeres han sufrido acoso sexual desde los 15 años. En Inglaterra y Gales, una investigación realizada en 2021 reveló que el 92% de las estudiantes afirmaron haber recibido insultos sexistas por parte de sus compañeros de la escuela, y el 61% rebelaban haber sufrido acoso sexual en el colegio por parte de sus compañeros. La amenaza potencial de sufrir violencia en la escuela o de camino a la escuela podría desincentivar a las niñas a asistir a la educación. Para dar respuesta a este problema, varios países como Ghana e India han experimentado con programas que proporcionan bicicletas a las niñas para brindarles una opción de transporte más segura para llegar a la escuela.
Aunque se ha trabajado para eliminar la violencia contra las mujeres y las niñas, los hechos anteriores muestran que se necesita mucho más trabajo. Broken Chalk cree que la educación es crucial para trabajar por la eliminación de la VCMN, ya que muchos estudios han demostrado que es precisamente en el entorno educativo donde los niños están expuestos a la violencia y son susceptibles a aprenderla. Por lo tanto, la educación es una herramienta poderosa que puede usarse para cambiar la cultura que enseña a comportarse de manera violenta con las niñas y mujeres, encaminándola hacia comportamientos más respetuosos. Además, la educación puede utilizarse para enseñar a las niñas y crear conciencia sobre lo que constituye violencia, algo que muchas niñas ni siquiera pueden empezar a comprender. De esta manera, la VCMN está tan normalizada a nivel mundial que quienes la sufren a veces no son consientes que se están violando sus derechos, lo que influye, en parte, en que menos del 40% de las mujeres que sufren violencia no busquen ayuda de cualquier tipo o la denuncien.
Por este motivo, Broken Chalk se suma a los 16 Días de Activismo contra la Violencia de Género, una campaña internacional anual que comienza el 25 de noviembre, Día Internacional de la Eliminación de la Violencia contra la Mujer, y se prolonga hasta el Día de los Derechos Humanos, el 10 de diciembre. El tema de la campaña de este año es “¡ÚNETE! Invierte para prevenir la violencia contra las mujeres y las niñas”, y Broken Chalk se une al movimiento y pide inversiones urgentes para prevenir la violencia contra las mujeres y las niñas, con especial atención en la educación para lograrlo. Además, Broken Chalk pide adoptar una perspectiva interseccional en el trabajo destinado a la erradicación de la VCMN, especialmente para comprender las dificultades y ataques adicionales que enfrentan las mujeres racializadas y LGTBQ+ tanto en su educación como en su vida cotidiana.
Broken Chalk lo anuncia al público con el debido respeto
In a world where 1 out of 3 women globally have experienced physical or sexual violence, where, every hour, five women are killed by someone in their own family and where evidence indicates that sexual harassment is alarmingly widespread, it is of extreme importance for the global community to take action. Broken Chalk recognises the urgent need to address the pervasive issue of gender-based violence, which also is reflected in educational contexts. In schools, sexual harassment and psychological bullying are a widespread reality; girls are impeded from following education because of child marriage and violence in their own homes and on their way to school.
Exacerbated by the compounding effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, economic crises, and political instability, this violence has a direct impact on their education, which hinders their enjoyment of human rights. The risks of violence discourage parents from sending girls to school, particularly in conflict situations, where during their journey to school, they fear the possibility of assault and abduction. It is empirically proven that victims of abuse have much higher rates of dropout and learning difficulties. This poses a serious threat to gender equality and the empowerment of upcoming generations of women.
Within this scenario, it is disheartening to observe the fact that only 0.2% of Global Official Development Assistance is directed toward gender-based violence prevention. Hence, Broken Chalk acknowledges that the impact of violence against women and girls (VAWG) is profound and extends beyond physical harm to affect the very foundations of society, hindering equality, development, and peace.
VAWG has a cost on society in general and girls’ education in particular, hence it remains an educational priority. Firstly, exposure to intimate partner violence, or domestic violence, has documented negative effects on children’s academic performance and behavioural outcomes. UNICEF reports it is linked with lower vocabulary and numeracy skills at ages 5 to 8. Secondly, violence against women constitutes one of the factors why girls cannot access education: worldwide, 129 million girls are out of school. Personal insecurity at school or social stigma and shame after experiencing sexual violence partly explain this. Girls and women who experience psychological violence might also be out of school as a result of the coercion on them.
Broken Chalk also recognises the pervasiveness of harassment as a form of violence against women. In the European Union, 45 to 55% of women have experienced sexual harassment since the age of 15. In England and Wales, an inquiry in 2021 revealed that 92% of female students affirmed receiving sexist name-calling from their school peers, and 61% of female students reported experiencing peer-on-peer sexual harassment in school. The potential threat of experiencing violence at school or on the way to school might disincentivise girls from attending education. In order to provide a response to this, several countries like Ghana and India have experimented with programs that provide bicycles to girls to provide a safer transport option to get to school.
Although work has been put into eliminating VAWG, the above facts show that much more work is needed. Broken Chalk believes that education is crucial to work towards the elimination of VAWG, as many studies have shown that it is precisely in the educational environment where children are exposed to violence and are taught it. Therefore, education is a powerful tool that can be used to shift the culture which teaches young and impressionable minds how to behave towards girls and women in violent ways into more peaceful and respectful manners. Furthermore, education can be used to teach girls and raise awareness of what constitutes violence, something which many girls cannot even begin to grasp. In this way, VAWG is so normalised globally that victims sometimes do not even realise their rights are being violated, which plays a part in less than 40% of women who experience violence seeking help of any sort or reporting it and finding justice.
For this reason, Broken Chalk joins the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, an annual international campaign starting on the 25th of November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and lasting until Human Rights Day on December 10th. This year’s campaign theme is “UNITE! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls”, and Broken Chalk joins the movement and calls for urgent investments to prevent VAWG, with a special focus on education to do so. Moreover, Broken Chalk calls for taking on an intersectional perspective in work put into the eradication of VAWG, especially for understanding the extra difficulties and attacks women of colour and LGTBQ+ women face both in their education and everyday lives.
Broken Chalk announces it to the public with due respect.
*Upon request, the article may be translated into other languages. Please use the comments section below*
Written by Juliana Campos, Nadia Annous and Maria Popova.
FGM, or the full-term Female Genital Mutilation is a practice performed on women and young girls involving removal or injury to the female genital organs. It is not performed for medical reasons, nor does it bring any health benefits. FGM is generally considered a human rights violation and a form of torture with long lasting effects on girls’ physical and mental health, often leading to early marriage and hindering girls’ access to education in over 30 countries worldwide.
What is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)?
According to the World Health Organisation, FGM consists of total or partial removal of the external genitalia or injury to the female genital organs. There are four types of FGM:
Partial or total removal of clitoral glands;
Partial or total removal of clitoral glands and labia minora;
Infibulation, which consists of narrowing the vaginal opening;
All other harmful procedures to female genitalia for non-medical purposes.
In total, it is estimated that over 200 million women have undergone this procedure worldwide. Currently, FGM is performed in over 30 countries around Africa, the Middle East and Asia, with most occurrences being registered in Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Egypt. Most victims of FGM fall between the age range of 0 to 15 years old.
Immediate and long-term complications
FGM has no health benefits, on the contrary, it can lead to a number of short and long-term complications to women. The adverse effects of the procedure are both physical and psychological, as FGM interferes with the natural functions of the female body and brings several damages to a healthy and normal genital tissue. Short-term health complications include excessive pain and bleeding, swelling, fever and infections. Oftentimes, the practitioners performing FGM use shared instruments, which leads to transmission of HIV and Hepatitis. Long-term complications include urinary and vaginal infections, pain during intercourse and complications during childbirth, especially in women who have undergone infibulation, as the sealed vagina is ripped open for intercourse and stitched back again after childbirth or widowhood. Neonatal mortality rates are also higher in places where FGM is practiced, as it can lead to increased risk of death for the baby.
How does FGM affect schooling?
FGM has a direct effect on girls’ education, starting by the long period of recovery needed after the procedure. A full recovery can take up to several months, by the end of which girls may feel it is pointless to return to the same school year. The longer education is disrupted, the lower are the chances of a return to school and many girls end up taking on other responsibilities such as house chores or informal work instead.
Another effect on girls’ education caused by FGM is the increased social pressure for marriage. Especially in low-income households, marriage can mean better financial stability and higher social status. As a result, education is no longer a priority for these girls’ families, causing many FGM victims to enter early marriages, which may lead to early pregnancies, diminishing the chances of a return to school to near zero.
Besides physical health complications, the psychological trauma caused by such an invasive and painful procedure, often performed without anaesthesia, may be paralysing for these girls, possibly leading to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, difficulties in socialisation and an overall impact on girls’ confidence.
Why is FGM still practiced?
There are different reasons as to why FGM remains such a common practice in certain regions, most of which reflect cultural or social factors. For instance, FGM is considered a requirement for women to be eligible for marriage, serving as “proof” that they have been kept “pure”. As a result, many families may feel as if they should conform to this practice in order to protect their daughters from social exclusion. In countries like Somalia where, according to UNICEF, 98% of girls between the ages of 5 and 11 have undergone FGM, not being part of that astonishing statistic can outcast these young girls from their communities.
Since the 1990’s, FGM has been the center of political debates as the international community and feminist groups press governments for a ban on this practice. However, besides guaranteeing social status, there is also a culture aspect behind FGM. It is seen as an honourable rite of passage, a way for these communities to connect to their ancestors and it creates a sense of belonging which can be difficult for outsiders to comprehend.
As a result, local political leaders who are openly against FGM are accused of caving in to external pressure and reduce their chances of being elected, making it unlikely that there will be a change in laws before there is a change in these societies’ cultural mindsets. This is evidenced by the fact that FGM is still practiced in many countries where it is officially illegal, such as Egypt, Ghana, Senegal and Burkina Faso.
How can education help end FGM?
Many girls are forced to undergo FGM at an age when they don’t understand the risks of the procedure. In fact, due to the alarmingly low literacy rates in some communities, it is likely that neither parents nor practitioners are able to make scientifically informed choices regarding these young girls’ health. It is evident, therefore, that education and access to information may be the strongest tools for prevention against Female Genital Mutilation.
Though information can be spread orally and not necessarily through formal education, taboos still hinder open discussions on female reproductive health. That is why it is important for healthcare professionals to educate local practitioners and parents in an accessible way. As education is also an empowering tool, it is crucial that girls are invited into these conversations and informed of their human right to make decisions over their own bodies.
What is being done to stop FGM?
Evidently, the process of educating people about the dangers of FGM must be done respectfully, by listening to these communities and understanding what this rite of passage means as a tradition. That is what NGOs such as the Association for the Promotion of Women in Gaoua (APFG) have done. APFG contributors in Burkina Faso have managed to persuade FGM practitioners to maintain the sacred rituals of the rite but leave out genital cutting. That way, girls are protected from the complications of FGM and the community’s tradition is kept.
It is equally as important to support survivors all around the world, women who are still dealing with the long lasting physical and mental impacts caused by FGM. The NGO Terre de Femmes or TDF, a German organisation working on raising awareness against Female Genital Mutilation, works to protect and support FGM survivors in Europe, particularly in countries with the highest rates of affected individuals, namely France, Belgium, Italy, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. TDF also advocates against Female Genital Mutilation by writing petitions and increasing political pressure for countries to either ban FGM or ensure existing laws are upheld.
Female Genital Mutilation results in numeral short and long-term complications for women, including a significant disruption in girls’ education. It is an extremely dangerous practice affecting thousands of girls each year, girls who have been denied the basic human right to physical integrity.
Still today, perhaps due to cultural stigmas around female reproductive health, FGM is not as openly discussed as other gender related issues and efforts to tackle its impacts are still insufficient. Educating practitioners, parents and girls themselves by providing information on the dangers of FGM is a powerful tool against this harmful procedure. Furthermore, it is crucial to take FGM’s social, political and cultural complexities into consideration and, most importantly, amplify FGM victims’ voices.
Shweder, R. A. (2000). What about “Female Genital Mutilation”? And Why Understanding Culture Matters in the First Place. Daedalus, 129(4), 209–232. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20027671
The reasons given for FGM: culture and tradition. (1998). Womens Health Newsletter, (36), 7.
El Dawla, A. S. (1999). The Political and Legal Struggle over Female Genital Mutilation in Egypt: Five Years Since the ICPD. Reproductive Health Matters, 7(13), 128–136. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3775715
After over two years under Taliban rule, Afghan women continue to endure profound challenges: limited mobility and freedom of speech, lack of autonomy and a ban on education. Even if a 20 year gap separates the Taliban’s first government, overthrown in 2001, from their reclaim of power in 2021, not much seems to have changed in their interpretation of Islamic law, though officials continue to vehemently deny human rights are being violated.
Taliban representatives claim the western media is responsible for corrupting popular opinion on their government and that UN reports do not convey the reality of today’s Afghanistan. According to them, the ban on women’s education is a temporary measure, while the government prepares an “Islamic environment” that complies with their interpretation of Sharia law and meets the demands of the Afghan people. However, after two years, no progress has been made and there seems to be little indication the Taliban will indeed address the very urgent issue of gender inequality in Afghanistan and lift restrictions such as the ban on education for women.
What Does The Education Ban Mean for Afghan Women?
Education equips women with the tools to make more informed choices, to lead healthier lifestyles and it protects them against abuse by teaching them to recognize violent behaviour and to fight for their physical and mental integrity. Not only is it an empowering tool on an individual level, educating women benefits entire communities. Being the primary caregivers in many societies, well instructed women are able to better prepare themselves for life-changing decisions such as marriage and pregnancy, raising healthier children, in happier households.
Furthermore, education allows women to take on a more active role in their nation’s economy and development, by granting them the practical knowledge needed to use their talents and creativity to open their own businesses, for example. Taliban spokesperson Suhali Shaheen claims that 8.500 business licenses have been granted to Afghan women under their ruling and that over 800.000 women are currently working in Afghanistan. The government has yet to publish these official reports and their sources, but even if they prove to be accurate, if the ban on education isn’t lifted, these numbers will certainly face a dramatic decrease in the next few years.
The fact remains that many women who remember the severe restrictions imposed in the late 1990’s by the Taliban fear being once again deprived of the knowledge that previously allowed them a small sense of economic, emotional and political independence. The impacts of such strict rules imposed by the Taliban have already been recorded during their previous period in power between 1996 and 2001. If nothing is done to change the current scenario, the world risks witnessing another generation of illiterate Afghan women, completely excluded from social life and deprived of formal education.
By reinstalling laws which limit women’s freedom in society, banning women from working, studying and being seen in public without a male chaperone (the Mahram), the Taliban severely worsens gender inequality in Afghanistan and denies women the chance to develop emotionally and intellectually, besides directly affecting the country’s economy.
The United Nations’ Take on Women and Girls’ Education Under the Taliban
The UN has been vocal about the situation in Afghanistan, particularly on Afghan women’s rights. It considers the Taliban takeover in 2021 a reversal of women’s freedoms. Indeed, it seems the little progress made in the past 20 years has suffered a complete turn over in a matter of months.
Though UN’s statements help spread awareness and reliable information, the organisation has not directly intervened on a larger scale and has not shown intention to do so, as of today. As previously mentioned, the Taliban has accused the UN of misrepresenting the situation in Afghanistan in their reports and while this is a debatable statement, one thing is for certain: women and girls are barred from receiving education. Other areas in Afghan women’s social lives may be more tricky to evaluate from far away, as many of them spend a great portion of the time inside their homes, but the state of females’ access to secondary education and higher education is clear; there is no such access.
Are There Prospects for Change?
The simple answer would be that if the international community does not intervene, there aren’t many grounds for optimism. Interviews given by Taliban representatives have made it clear that they will not be giving up the right to rule given to them by God, according to their beliefs. Therefore, it is expected that their policies on women and their rights and freedoms will continue, as it is unlikely the government will ever be overthrown by the Afghan people, who are forbidden to speak against the regime.
It is unfortunate to conclude that the Taliban government’s restrictions on women’s rights and women’s education stand strong after two years. Being banned from attending schools and universities will not only greatly hamper women’s quality of life and their well being, but also difficultate their conquest of social and financial independence through education. Moreover, the Afghan nation as a whole will greatly suffer the effects of this ban, as including women in state affairs, the economy, and social life in general is an important pillar in a country’s development.
There is little to no prospect of change for the near future as the Taliban remains determined and strong in its seat. Perhaps the most effective measure the international community can take is advocating for women’s rights and spreading awareness about what is happening in Afghanistan today.
Written by Dimitrios Chasouras & Jimena Villot Lopez
The United States of America is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with a GDP of $25 trillion as of 2022.i However, as of 2020, the expenditure on education was 12.7% of the total government spending that year.ii This fiscal allocation shows the funding system of schools in the US, where the financial support is divided between government revenue and local resources, which bind school budgets to their respective districts. This funding model creates a large divide in the educational opportunities available to students. Schools in wealthier areas, with low-poverty percentages, benefit from significantly higher spending per student, in contrast with those in economically disadvantaged areas, which have lower budgets available. The effects of this gap regarding education are increasingly evident in students’ lives and school performance.
Another issue dealt with in this article is the constant presence of gun violence cases in schools, which is another of the biggest challenges faced by educational institutions in the United States. The addition of resource limitations and security concerns posed by gun violence cause a multifaceted threat to the well-being and safety of students all over the country. Both issues will be discussed separately, dealing with the complexities which surround the problem, along with potential measures to rectify them, or at least try to do so. It is important to remember that education is vital in a child’s development, and therefore it is paramount that these issues are taken seriously. Additionally, attention by government and local authorities is necessary to take into action comprehensive strategies (such as financial plans, security measures, and mental health support) to ensure the safety and well-being of all students, regardless of their socioeconomic or ethnic background.
Gun violence and consequences in schools
With around 50% of American households having at least one registered firearm and an exponential increase in gun manufacturing,iii gun violence incidents have been increasing drastically in the last couple of years, within households and publicly, including school premises. Incidents include suicides, assaults and school shooting, which has led to firearms being the leading cause of death among children and teens. 76% of school shootings have occurred by students who acquired guns from either their own households or relatives.iv Compared to other high-income countries, children between the age of 5-14 years old are 21 times more likely to be shot, while teens between 15-24 are 23 times more likely.v Additionally, around 4,000 children and teens (ages 0-19) are shot and killed annually, while 15,000 are wounded by firearms, totalling up to an average of 53 children being shot a day. Those statistics clearly outline a serious problem that plagues US adults and minors in their everyday lives. Gun violence incidents have long-lasting effects not just on the direct victims but the victims’ friends, family, and witnesses as well. Survivors of gun violence have to battle a multitude of psychological and mental issues, such as fear of death and PTSDvi which can lead to violent behaviour and abuse of drugs/alcohol.
To combat gun violence on school campuses, certain states have applied legislation permitting authorised gun possession on campus, even mandatory.vii Schools, colleges, and universities still have the final judgement on gun safety laws (e.g., authorised gun possession by school staff), but due to the increasing number of incidents, statehouses continue to promote such policies. Most attempts to decrease shootings in schools have been reactive, with other examples including eye-catching graphics, involvement and mentoring of adults and peers.viii Out of all, the one that has been suggested the most is community-based solutions, as they tend to be more tailored to the issues the state, school or district faces. Unfortunately, certain districts are unable to carry out such programs due to a lack of funding.
The outcomes of the above-mentioned policies and programs have not caused much change in gun violence incidents, and most students feel increasingly threatened and intimidated.ix Schools that have introduced gun safety programs or authorised gun possession or the presence of law enforcement have been burdened with additional financial costs that they are unable to pay. At the same time, students who go through shooter drills suffer from more depression, stress, anxiety, and the fear of death.
Some researchers suggest that stricter gun laws have opposite effects than the ones mentioned, for example, a decrease in the probability of missing a school day due to feeling unsafe, students carrying a weapon on campus, and students getting injured.x
The challenges of gun violence and the proposed solutions statistically have a disproportionate impact on students based on ethnic backgrounds.xi More specifically, black teens are 17 times more likely to die by homicide and 13 times more likely to be hospitalised for firearm assault compared to white teens, as well as Latinx, who are 2.7 times more likely to die by homicide.xii Such statistics are true even within the same states and cities, which creates unequal challenges for certain students compared to others. Policy decisions in place and disinvestments in certain parts of cities have left African-American and Latinx communities with a struggle to implement the above programs or counsel victims due to lack of resources, poverty and unemployment, which has led to an increase in gun violence in the last few years.xiii
Even when gun safety laws are implemented, African-American students tend to feel more threatened by the presence of guns and law enforcement on campus compared to others.xiv White students, although less likely to die of gun violence, have a higher risk of committing suicide when guns are in their household and/or on campus. Evidently, gun violence has created challenges for students across America, but different communities and ethnic groups differ in the type and extent of threat they perceive and experience. This has impacted overall school performance regarding attendance, test scores, graduation rates, feeling of safety, and perceived threat.
Consequences of lack of funding on the learning process
Since the 1800s in the United States, public schools have been primarily funded through local and state sources, the primary source of local funding being property taxes from individual community school districtsxv. This means that the money used to fund a school in a certain district comes from the property taxes paid by the owners of the houses in that same district. The advantage of this is that it ensures local control, which means the budget is allocated according to the specific needs and priorities of the schools in each district, however, it also has disadvantages.
Education funding largely depends on property taxes, resulting in disparities between schools in wealthy and disadvantaged areas. This funding model has left many schools struggling to provide the resources and opportunities that students need. Schools in wealthier neighbourhoods, or even those which have less low-income students attending, receive significantly more funding per student than those in high-poverty areas, with a more considerable number of low-income students. For example, as of 2020 in Illinois, Golfview Elementary School served 550 students, where 86% of them are considered low-income. On the other hand, Algonquin Lakes Elementary had 425 students, with reportedly less than 50% of them being low-income, and Algonquin received over $2,000 more than Golfview per student a yearxvi. This will mean that the educational needs of children in Algonquin have a higher likelihood of being met, improving their educational experience while leaving Golfview students with significant disadvantages.
Another one of the consequences of the funding disparities in the different areas is the inadequate compensation that educators receive in schools. To make ends meet, many teachers find themselves working multiple jobs. The demand for a higher livable wage is growing louder because committed educators need to be able to devote all of their energy to their work rather than worrying about their financial stability. It goes beyond just fair compensation.
Teacher shortages are causing larger problems in public schools. Wealthier schools, with students coming from high-income families, tend to hire more experienced, qualified teachers, which in turn costs more money. Since the pandemic, schools have been struggling to hire qualified teachers, and most of the low-income schools could not afford the salaries of experienced teachers, which has lowered the pool of potential applicants for teaching positions immenselyxvii.Due to this, some states have started making credential requirements lower, allowing for non-certified teachers to take over the vacant teaching positions, which affects children’s education. Christopher Blair, the former superintendent of Bullock County, Alabama, was quoted in 2022 stating that “when you have uncertified, emergency or inexperienced teachers, students are in classrooms where they are not going to get the level of rigour and classroom experiences.”xviii
The consequences of this shortage extend to overcrowded classrooms, which makes it difficult for teachers to provide individualised attention and support to students. In 2022, CNN went to a school outside of Phoenix where a teacher reported having to teach over 70 students in her biology classxix. This has negative consequences for the students, as it gets in the way of individualised attention, but also for the teacher, as it can cause burnout and stress to have to focus on so many students at one time. Furthermore, outdated textbooks and inadequate classroom supplies remain a prevalent issue in underfunded schools.
As can be seen from the previous analysis, the funding model for public schools has created a severe divide in the quality of education received by students all over the country. It offers advantages, such as local control and a constant revenue source for the communities; however, the disadvantages are more significant. Schools in wealthier areas or those with fewer low-income students receive substantially more funding per student than those in high-poverty regions. This financial discrepancy leads to unequal access to resources and opportunities, perpetuating educational inequalities.
Another pressing issue that arises from the lack of funding is inadequate compensation for teachers, which means they are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, hindering their ability to focus all their energy on teaching. This will mean that fewer of the most experienced teachers will choose to work in such circumstances and only choose the wealthier schools or get jobs in other fields. This means that schools with a more significant number of high-poverty students will struggle to maintain qualified teachers. Along with overcrowding of classrooms, outdated textbooks and inadequate supplies, these issues collectively pose a severe challenge to students’ educations in United States public schools. Bridging the funding gaps and addressing teacher shortages are imperative steps toward ensuring that every child has access to a quality education, regardless of their socioeconomic background.
In fact, researchers have debated the value of increasing educational funding. However, recent research has found that when funding is directed towards high-poverty schools, and this money is used for important purposes, such as experienced teachers, social workers, or programs to address students’ academic needs, it can greatly boost student successxx
It can be considered that gun violence and funding disparities in schools are interrelated issues in terms of hindering students’ education for several reasons. Firstly, when schools do not have the necessary budget to afford to hire the necessary staff, such as educators, it can also mean no security staff to control who is able to go in and out of the school. However, this may also include social workers, school psychologists and staff designed to support the students and aid their mental health protection after dangerous situations which may occur. Additionally, in the first section, it was discussed how one of the discussed methods to protect against gun violence in schools was considering arming teachers with weapons in case of emergency. This can be damaging for several reasons, as it may create an unsafe environment for children at school and, at the same time, may discourage teachers from working at schools in which they have to carry guns for protection.
This is also related to district division because community and socioeconomic factors may indirectly affect the safety of the schools. Schools in economically disadvantaged districts or neighbourhoods may face additional challenges, including higher crime rates and exposure to community violence.
It’s important to emphasise that educational funding and division of resources may play a role in addressing school safety and gun violence; however, it is only part of the solution to the problem. Some other strategies to prevent gun violence include the support of mental health by advisors or counsellors in schools, anti-bullying efforts and community engagement. Additionally, whether locally or regionally, district leaders and politicians must address the underlying factors which may lead individuals to resort to violence and adopt responsible gun control measures.
Education is one of the most important elements of a child’s development, and measures which hinder or impede an appropriate education for students in public schools must be addressed. Ensuring a safe and secure school environment is a complex challenge, and it requires serious commitment all over the country.
Bhutan is a small country that lies between India and China, nestling the Himalayas. Although the nation’s international presence was obscure for decades, ruled by the Wangchuck monarchy since 1907, the country has made several appearances at international forums 1970 onwards, and has always taken pride in maintaining their traditions and cultures. Bhutan was also introduced to modern and organised schooling relatively late between 1913 and 1914, and it was only in 2008 that the country established a two-party democracy after elections.
Currently, in the educational sector, Bhutan is struggling to provide students with refined infrastructure, human resources, and has failed to implement programs and standardisation, which affect the nation’s literacy rate and enlarges the socio-economic gaps between the diverse population. Prior to the introduction of formal education systems, Bhutan only had Monastic educations, where people would discuss religious themes and scriptures, and younger monks would learn from older monks and teachers. Organised Monastic education however, was introduced in 1622 by the formal monk body in Thimpu, where young monks focused on their spiritual growth. In 1913, on the basis of orders given out by Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck, the first monarch of Bhutan, Gongzin Ugyen Dorji, established the first modern school in Haa. The goal of establishing formal schools in the country primarily focused on generating resources and aiding the country’s developing economy. It was after the inception of the first five-year plan in 1961, that the nation chose to place systematic education development as a priority. Bhutan has shown exponential educational growth over the course of decades, but the challenges of poor infrastructure, the lack of funds and finances, and the quality of education are still monumental.
In 1914, 46 Bhutanese boys travelled to Kalimpong, India to study at a mission school. Simultaneously, Dorji established the first modern school in Haa with teachers from the Church of Scotland Mission, and later another school was established in Bumthang for the Crown Prince and the children of the Royal court’s education. The curriculums were taught in Hindi and English.
Before the first five-year plan that focused on stabilising the educational sector of the nation, schools were classified as either ‘schools for Nepali Immigrants’ and ‘schools for Bhutanese.’ Most Nepali Immigrant schools consisted of one Indian teacher, a handful of students in one classroom in various districts across the country. The classes were conducted by the invited Indian teachers in Nepali, Hindi or English, and the schools were privately established in order to fulfil the demands of local residents. Furthermore, the ambiguity regarding the languages of instruction is in relation to the southern districts of the country where people were ethnically Nepali-Bhutanese. Nepalis had begun to immigrate to Bhutan in the late nineteenth century, when the British East India Company had just established tea plantations across the South-Asian subcontinent and sent workers from North-East India to Nepal. Some workers had escaped to Bhutan by crossing the ill-defined border at the time and settled down in the Southern districts of the small hill surrounded nation. These Nepali settlements in Bhutan were extremely self-sufficient, with mere interventions from the Bhutanese government. When they required a formal education, the residents of the communities built schools for cheap, hired teachers from neighbouring nations, and conducted small classes.
Over the course of time, Bhutan saw the emergence of schools for the Bhutanese. They rapidly grew popular, with the number of students increasing, as well as the number of educators. The languages of instruction varied from Hindi, English, Nepali, Classic Tibetan and more. The first school opened in Haa welcomed the public and recognised the first batch of children who graduated from a mixed-sex primary school. Both types of schools had the support of local governments and public schools had a larger intake of up to 100 students. While for Nepali Immigrant schools the initiative was taken up from the local ground levels, for Bhutanese schools, the initiative was taken for the masses by governing bodies and officials in the nation.
Since the implementation of the first five-year plan in 1961, Bhutan has witnessed rapid growth in the number of schools. From about 11 schools in 1961, the number of schools rose to over a thousand by 2019, including primary schooling, post-secondary schooling, vocational and technical training. The constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan, Article-9, Section-16 states, “the State shall endeavour to provide free basic education up to tenth standard to all school going age children,” (Kuenzang Gyeltshen, 2020), and the ministry makes sure there is no discrimination, gender based or socio-economic, in the enrollment process. The completion rate among female students stands at 102.3 percent, while for male students it stands at 84.8 percent. Schools for disabled students and students with Special Educational Needs (SEN) have also been established across the country.
Although in recent times Bhutan has made large investments in the education sector and funded infrastructural changes and established an institute to train educators, despite the rapid growth, the nation is still struggling to overcome certain challenges.
The lack of human resources and financial aid is posing to be the greatest threat to Bhutan’s education system. The country primarily funds its educational developments by loans from other nations at the moment, and does not have sufficient funding to provide new teachers or students with the prescribed training or in-class learning. Most incoming teachers are currently dependent on international scholarships and training programs.
Furthermore, the Royal Government of Bhutan still needs to overcome challenges presented by the disparity in economic statuses of families, socio-economic backgrounds, disabilities in students, as well as different terrains cutting off access to education. Students from certain hilly terrains of the country are cut off from quality education and well-established schools, leading to problems of overcrowding in classrooms, paving the way for ill-managed workload for the teachers. Moreover, students are unable to achieve the goals set for them. In the twenty-first century, education is not solely focused on academic grades, but is also focused on nurturing students with values and holistic learning. The TIMSS has proven that Bhutanese students are learning at a level lower than the international average (Kuenzang Gyeltshen, 2020). Students in Bhutan have demonstrated learning gaps in some of the core subjects, proving there is immense room for improvement in terms of the quality of education provided to them at the moment.
In addition to the aforementioned issues, there also exists a gap in the literacy rate of male students in comparison to female students. While male students have acquired a literacy rate 73.1 percent, females on the other hand stand at 63.9 percent. This is an equity based challenge Bhutan has to overcome which reflects gender based bias that still exists in the country (Kuenzang Gyeltshen, 2020). Bhutan does not have an education act or policy in execution at the moment. Their system efficiency needs to be improved in order to be more inclusive, and needs to provide the correct resources in order to develop and progress. A legislative education Act needs to be provided in order to witness tangible results and aid their educational sector, along with their globalisation goals. While Bhutan has proven to be a rapidly developing country and has taken the initial step towards achieving their goals, especially based on their first five-year plan, the nation still needs to come up with concrete plans to provide financial support to the educational sector.
Nestled amidst a variety of landscapes- from the mountain chains of Stara Planina, a natural dividing line running west to east, with over 40,000 cultural heritage sites, of which seven are listed under the UNESCO list, to the myriad of beaches along the coastline of Black Sea, Bulgaria is a perfect amalgamation of old cultures and modern townships. Founded in the seventh century, Bulgaria is the second oldest country, after San Marino, in the European continent.
Because of its rich historical background, Bulgaria also sees an intersection of Greek, Persian, Slavic, Roma and Ottoman cultures. This cultural intersection has also significantly impacted Bulgaria’s politics and society. Modern Bulgarian socio-political society has evolved due to interwoven inherited beliefs, values and practices combined with new influences. The impact of this ever-changing fusion can be seen in different aspects of Bulgarian society, particularly in education.
Before we look into the changing landscape of education in Bulgaria, let’s first understand where the country stands and how some of these factors affect its education infrastructure.
Bulgaria joined the European Union on 1st January 2007 after signing the 2005 Treaty of Accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU. Since then, there have been significant changes in its education sector, especially in terms of funding, investment in educational infrastructure and technology, advancement of its curriculum to meet EU standards and, most importantly, the introduction of a variety of widely spoken EU languages and mobility and exchange programmes.
Moreover, being an upper-middle income of the European Union, Bulgaria has implemented (especially after joining the EU) policies and introduced reforms in various sectors that also increase its proximity to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) standards and practices. It is on the pathway to becoming a member of the OECD. These reforms and policies have been encouraged and facilitated by a strong commitment to EU integration and have led the country to achieve macroeconomic stabilisation and higher living standards for the people in past decades.
However, although Bulgaria is striving towards progress, various hurdles need to be understood and worked upon.
Take education for instance. Bulgaria does believe that education is a vital tool to combat its current problems and will also aid in realising the country’s socio-economic potential. But it has not been so successful. The country has one of the lowest education outcomes in the EU. According to PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) data, 47% of 15-year-old students failed to achieve sufficient levels of reading proficiency in 2018, as compared to the Eastern Europe and Central Asia regional average of 42% and the OECD and EU average of 23%.
One of the underlying reasons for Bulgaria’s diminished educational progress is the low investment rate in the educational sector. According to the latest data of 2018, only 3.5% of the GDP is spent on education, which is lower than the EU average of 4.6%. It is one of the lowest in the EU.
Even though the world is moving towards digitalisation, Bulgarian classrooms could be more progressive. Most of the teachers find the integration of technology in the classrooms as an effective instrument however, they often complain about the lack of technical equipment and skills required to utilise the existing technology in classrooms. Fewer schools in Bulgaria are digitally equipped when compared to the EU. According to a 2019 report by the European Commission, only 32% of primary school children, 31% at the lower secondary level, and 37% at the upper secondary level have access to digitally equipped schools, as compared to the average 35%, 52% and 72% in the EU respectively. Only 57% of students in the age group 16-19 years possess basic digital skills as basic, which is much below the EU average of 82%.
The past few years have seen investments funded by the EU to enhance digital tools and ICT (Information and Communication Technology) infrastructure; however, a Ministry of Education and Science study revealed that less than 40% of educational institutions had adequate equipment in their computer labs. Further, almost only half of the Bulgarian schools had pre-requisite conditions to enable modern ICT infrastructure and learning opportunities for teachers to enhance their ICT skills.
According to the 2020 Digital Economy and Society Index, Bulgaria ranks at the bottom of the European rankings based on the digital skills of adults and young people. For the same reason, attempts are now being made to address this challenge. The SELFIE tool (a tool developed by the European Commission to help schools understand where they stand in digital education) is already used by 30% of the Bulgarian schools that evaluated how they use digital technologies in teaching and learning. The number of upper secondary classes specialising in ICT has been increased. Interestingly, coding is being offered as a subject starting from third grade, while four universities provide programmes in Artificial Intelligence. This is after the Council of the European Union called Bulgaria to ‘promote digital skills and equal access to education’ in its 2020 country specific recommendations. Bulgaria has also set out ‘Digital Bulgaria 2025’, a national programme for modernising and incorporating IT solutions in all economic and social welfare areas. One notable educational challenge confronting Bulgaria is the structural issues in teaching policies. Most teachers in primary to upper secondary schools are ageing rapidly, as most are older than 50. According to a report by World Bank 2019, around 11% are found to be already 60 years old. Despite raising the teachers’ salaries to make it more attractive, only some were found to opt for the teaching profession. The teacher training is considered more theoretical than practical, and there is no clear policy to measure if the teachers’ skills meet students’ needs nor any system to track the teaching and learning experience of the classrooms.
Discrimination against Roma children in schools
Although providing equal and unbiased education is a fundamental human right for all citizens of the EU countries, the non-inclusive nature of public education consistently denies Roma children from enjoying this right. There are huge gaps in access, quality and treatment of Roma children. One of the primary concerns is school segregation.
Even though school segregation has never been officially introduced or sanctioned by the Eastern and Central European countries, unfortunately, it has always been present. The system of ‘Gypsy schools’ predominantly existed in Bulgaria, where the children enrolled belonged exclusively to the Roma community as they were not allowed to enrol in mainstream Bulgarian schools.
Over the years, especially in the late 90s and 2000s, the policies of the Bulgarian government supported the downsizing of the Gypsy schools. The organised grassroots effort for school desegregation in Bulgaria began in 2000, with several hundred Romani children enrolling from a gypsy school in Vidin into the town’s mainstream schools. This initiative aligns with the historical development of Romani communities in Bulgaria, where, having lived on Bulgarian lands for centuries, Roma has long aspired to integrate into the broader societal institutions, including the educational system. The desire to achieve this goal has existed for a long time and is not limited to the present. Even in past decades, Romani parents with the necessary knowledge and resources made efforts to enrol their children in mainstream schools.
However, this process has remained ever slow in doing so. Many Roma children either remain unenrolled in schools, often drop out or do not receive quality inclusive education. The 2018 UNICEF Situation Analysis of Children and Women in Bulgaria identifies factors such as poverty, limited proficiency in the official language (Bulgarian), prejudice, and discrimination as the primary contributors to this issue.
In the 2018 PISA test, students from more advantaged backgrounds significantly outperformed their less advantaged counterparts, with a substantial gap of 106 points in reading, equivalent to over two and a half years of schooling. While this gap has decreased since 2009 (when it stood at 130 points), this reduction primarily stems from lower scores among the advantaged students rather than an improvement in the performance of disadvantaged students. To summarise, 70% of students facing socio-economic disadvantages encountered difficulties in reading, in contrast to just 25% among their more socio-economically advantaged peers. This gap of 45 percentage points is the widest in the EU. Consequently, the transmission of educational qualification and poverty between generations is a crucial factor influencing overall educational opportunities, early school dropout rates, and subsequent success in the labour market. This concludes that the benefits from schooling are higher for students whose mother tongue is Bulgarian than others.
Students’ socio-economic status strongly influences their aspirations regarding attaining a university degree. In Bulgaria, 64.3% of teenagers generally aim to achieve higher education, slightly surpassing the EU average of 62.4%. Nevertheless, when examining the least privileged students, only 42.8% realise this aspiration, in contrast to the significantly higher rate of 83.3% among their more affluent counterparts.
Moreover, the Committee of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states its concern over Bulgaria’s National Roma Integration Strategy (2012-2020) as it remains constrained. The Committee observes hindrances preventing Roma individuals from thoroughly enjoying their economic, social, and cultural rights. Specifically, there are ongoing concerns about discrimination against Roma in areas such as employment, housing, healthcare, and education, which are further exacerbated by increased anti-Roma sentiment. It is particularly concerned about reports that Roma children increasingly attended de facto segregated schools.
It has been over 20 years since the Bulgarian government initiated its desegregation policy. However, most reports, as we saw, suggest that the progress is slow. The desegregation is a long-term process that requires continuous efforts and, most importantly, an understanding of a multi-layered phenomenon. To ultimately achieve integration, the government must work alongside the communities- both the majority and minority, civil society and international organisations to ensure equitable education for all.