Marrying off male teachers no solution to gender violence

Date: January 1, 1970
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Get married or there is no job for you! This is a clear message male teachers are getting in the northern Mozambican town of Muecate in Nampula province, more than 2 000 kilometres north of Maputo. Yet, it is unlikely that this move alone will create safe schools for girls.

Since last year, more than 387 male teachers received notices to marry or leave the profession. The action followed requests from the local population who approached the ministry of education authorities and said unmarried male teachers were more likely to sexually abuse female learners.
There is no doubt that relationships between female learners and male teachers are a widespread problem – a problem that can have many consequences, including early pregnancy and HIV/AIDS. These relationships can also interrupt or end the education of the young person, as well as have  devastating consequences for self-esteem.
The problem is not unique to Mozambique. Rather the issue is of concern all over Southern Africa.
Half of Malawian schoolgirls surveyed in 2006 said male teachers or classmates had touched them in a sexual manner without their permission.
Research published by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation Gender-based Violence Programme in September 2006, also found that, for many, in South Africa, schools were not safe places. The research found that girls were harassed when they went to the toilet and when they stood in the tuck line, often exposed to unsolicited touching and abusive language. Teachers did not appear to take such harassment seriously.
Sexual harassment and violence in and around schools threatens girls’ education, jeopardising their development and right to choose their life paths. Yet, demanding that male teachers marry, or lose their jobs, is unlikely to solve the problem and it infringes on the teachers right to personal choice.
The issue is more about gender equality, and respect for both genders, rather than if a teacher is married. If a teacher is married, yet has not developed a respect for gender equality, he is still unlikely to intervene when witnessing incidences of gender violence.
In a telephone interview, Muecate district administrator, Carlos Amade, confirmed that teachers had been asked to marry or they would loose their jobs. “The concerns of the community were legitimate, in a recent study done in the area it was found out that most of the people who sexually abused girls were unmarried teachers,” he said
Zacarias Jemus, the head of the Pedagogical section in the Muecate district directorate of ministry of Education and Culture said they recently fired a teacher for having a love affair with a student. He said there was an increase in the number of female learners who dropped out of school after they fell pregnant.
“In fact it is a positive move, this is not only to discourage teachers not to have relations with learners but we will be trying to organise their lives because in our culture a man is considered to have grown up after marrying,” he said. Jemus said out of the 387 teachers who had been encouraged to marry about 24 had not yet married.
If a teacher is forced to marry, yet still maintains attitudes that re-enforce gender inequality, it I unlikely that this lack of respect for girls will end. After all, how often do men have relationships outside of marriage?
Muecate district is one of the recent beneficiaries of a project launched and funded by a global NGO, World Vision, which seeks to promote the entry of more female learners in schools. Launching the project last year, World donated educational materials and monthly food parcels to schools enrolling female learners.
Jemus said in Muecate district out of the 43 000 learners enrolled in primary school less than 19 000 were female. He said some of the factors contributing to this included long distance between residential areas and schools, early traditional marriages in other cases they get involved in sexual relations with teachers and drop out of school.
School systems must show zero tolerance towards sexual violence and towards teachers having sexual relationships with students. In this way those guilty of sexual relationships are held accountable, while maintaining freedom to choose for others.
The core issue is gender equality and ensuring that teachers respect male and female students. Forcing teachers to marry will is unlikely to ensure the respect for gender and girls in the classroom, it will only mask the problem.
Fred Katerere is the editor of Vista News, an English language news service agency based in Mozambique. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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