Plan International Ghana, a child development non-governmental organization, has urged the government to take a zero-tolerance approach to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).It also asked the government to make and implement laws to prevent SGBV on actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, and sexual expression.
Plan International Ghana with the African Youth and Adolescents Network on Population and Development (AfriYAN) also admonished the government to guarantee access to justice for victims of violence, particularly sexual violence, and eliminate all laws and policies that perpetuate such violence.
They made the call at a stakeholder forum in Accra to deliberate on measures to improve mechanisms that would prevent and respond to SGBV.
The forum was to provide an opportunity for stakeholders to share ideas on how to identify and respond to such violence in schools, workplaces, and religious spaces.
The stakeholders included the Ghana Education Service (GES), Civil Society Organisations, students, the media, and legal practitioners.
Mr. Solomon Tesfamariam, the Country Director, Plan International Ghana, said on a daily basis, women and girls faced the risk of violence when carrying out essential activities at homes, religious spaces, workplaces, and educational institutions.
Ending violations against girls and women, he said, was not about demanding exceptional treatment, but letting girls and women live in dignity.He said violence against women and girls constituted the most severe expression of gender-based discrimination, which was a threat to societal peace and an appalling human rights violation.
Perpetrated in a culture of silence and impunity, Mr. Tesfamariam said the elimination of SGBV against women and girls had, therefore, become a priority.
“The best way to stop violence is for it not to happen in the first place. Prevention is not just about awareness-raising campaigns and forums but about putting in place policies to promote comprehensive and holistic prevention and response,” he said.
Mrs. Lillian Bruce, the Gender Inclusion and Influencing Specialist, Plan International Ghana, entreated schools to create gender-sensitive environments for girls to build their confidence and protect their rights.
“Let’s open up a forum for the girls to talk about those harmful practices. Schools should build up capacity and train some students to attend to issues of SGBV against their co-students. And by that we should create safe and secured reporting mechanisms and avenues for students to be able to report,” she said.
Mrs. Bruce said terminating the appointment of teachers for abusing or engaging students sexually was not enough punishment and admonished the GES to outline guiding principles that teachers would sign periodically to remind them of staying away from students they were sexually attracted to.
Mr. Roland Takyi, the Programme Officer, Guidance and Counselling Unit, GES, said perpetrators of SGBV also needed counselling as much as survivors did, to discourage them from re-indulging in the act. The GES, he said, had developed content for teachers to acquire knowledge on safe school environment and protective rights for pupils to enjoy their right to education.
The safe school resource pack includes a book on safe school for teachers, a training manual on safe schools, and peer to peer manual for children.
“We are doing this and believe that for the school environment to be safe, children also have roles to play to adapt to responsible lifestyles,” he said.
Mrs. Irene Yankson, the Headmistress, Dzorwulu Junior High School, said sometimes teachers strived to follow up to ensure justice was served to student survivors and perpetrators brought to book.
However, they were sometimes reluctant because their lives were threatened afterward and they received no assurance of security, she said.
Mrs. Yankson advised students to report their plights regarding SGBV to their parents and teachers they trusted.