Creative and participatory methods for bolstering violence prevention in schools in South East Europe through shifting social and gender norms
Keywords:violence against children, participatory and creative methods, social norms, gender norms, school-based violence
Children have the right to be free from violence in schools, yet violence in schools persists. The social and gender norms, or unwritten rules of behavior that drive our collective beliefs, attitudes, and perspectives, perpetuate both positive and harmful behavior related to violence. However, social norms are malleable. To explore this further, the Regional Research on Violence Against Children in Schools in South East Europe project, supported by Terre des hommes and the Child Protection Hub and led by the International Institute on Child Rights and Development (IICRD) sought to work with young people and their supporters in eight South and East European countries from 2019–2021 to unpack how social and gender norms impact school related gender-based violence (SRGBV) and the potential role young people play in challenging destructive social norms in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Moldova, Romania, and Serbia. At the intersection of a child’s right to be safe, to be educated and to be heard, this paper looks at a creative and participatory research approaches that bring children’s experiences of violence in schools to the fore and centers their experiences.
This largely qualitative study drew on participatory and creative methods to explore the incidence and type of violence that children and young people are facing in and around school in South East Europe, who is most impacted by it, the social and gender norms related to violence (including SRGBV) against children, the mechanisms and child-led actions that protect children from violence and promote wellbeing, how children and young people felt able to prevent or respond to violence (and SRGBV specifically), and the ideas they had for prevention. National academic and independent researchers were trained on the research and analysis tools that were designed by the IICRD team to ensure consistency. Two schools in each country were chosen to run 2–3 day workshops with up to 15 young people aged 13–18 years old and up to 15 adult supporters in each site.
This paper outlines the findings and focuses on the cyclical nature of research and practice where one informs the other. The multi-country research design and findings offer unique insights into effective approaches to work with young people as well as the levels of violence experienced by young people and their critical insights in how to implement enhanced safety in schools. In addition, this paper emphases the process of conducting research using creative and participatory methods as this is not often discussed in detail in the literature. In order to develop research with children and young people that can effectively impact practice, we suggest it is imperative to have a relational approach embedded in research that provides training for adults to ensure they are equipped to do this sensitive work.
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