Going to school without fear


one-1806Gender-based violence, bullying and discrimination are still too common in schools in Viet Nam. This is not only a barrier to learning, but also a fundamental violation of human rights. As well as limiting a young person's attendance, learning and completion, it impacts more widely on families and communities. School-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) and bullying is therefore a serious threat to the achievement of quality, inclusive and equitable education for all children in Viet Nam.

Combined with a lack of comprehensive sexuality education in schools and communities, the failure to adequately address these issues has resulted in high rates of adolescent birth, abortion and sexual transmission of HIV in the country. As a result, the National Strategy on HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control for the 2011-2020 and the Education Sector Action Plan for HIV and AIDS Prevention for 2012-2020 both highlight the importance of developing preventive healthcare. This aims to mitigate and reduce the risks of HIV/AIDS infections among communities through broader health education, which encompasses gender equality, sexual and reproductive health, and life skills training towards healthy behaviours and lifestyles.

Within this framework, over the past year the UN has supported national efforts to create safe learning environments free from gender stereotypes and all forms of violence and discrimination. Led by UNESCO, this comprehensive sexuality education initiative has involved collecting data on the nature, scope and consequences of SRGBV through a study carried out in six provinces across Viet Nam as well as developing tools to address major concerns in HIV and sexuality education, including an engaging 'Frequently Asked Questions and Answers (FAQs)' booklet series for young people.

Developed as part of the ground-breaking UN-supported "As We Grow Up" exhibition in 2013-2014, the FAQ booklets were developed with the approval of the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) and support of the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union and Clinton Health Access Initiative. UNICEF joined other UN agencies and MOET, provincial education officers, teachers and NGOs in workshops and dialogues, highlighting the importance of comprehensive sexuality education. The booklets comprise three volumes covering the main subject areas of puberty, relationships, and safe sex and HIV/AIDS. They provide a learning platform for young people to ask questions and express their concerns on sexual matters that they would have otherwise felt uncomfortable addressing among peers, teachers and even family. The Ministry's use of the FAQ booklets as a reference for developing teaching and learning tools for sexuality education establishes a more direct link between the current sexuality education in framework and the concerns and questions of young people.

Furthermore, in recognizing that gender inequality is one of the primary factors perpetuating poverty and impeding the country's sustainable development, the UN and MOET jointly developed and launched the UNESCO-led 'Gender Equality and Girls' Education Initiative in Viet Nam: Empowering girls and women for a more equal society' in 2015. This aims to strengthen the Education Sector's achievements on gender parity and to address gender inequality, from policy to practice, through targeted training and gender transformative approaches. UNFPA and UN Women are working together to provide technical assistance to fully integrate the specialized areas of reproductive healthcare, sex and safe-sex education, school-related gender-based violence, bullying and domestic violence prevention into the initiative.

The UN will continue its gender equality work in education as a powerful vehicle for challenging and transforming gender inequality and social norms during 2016. As a key element of the UN's new Sustainable Development Goals framework, this aims to achieve inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all in Viet Nam.