Global human rights legislation protects all people against discrimination and violence in education, irrespective of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Viet Nam has committed to a range of global conventions to end school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV). Putting these commitments into practice requires first recognising the fact that schools can be sites of violence, and considering the nature of SRGBV in practice so that it can be prevented and its impacts mediated. This report sits within broader efforts by the Government of Viet Nam and in particular the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) to recognise, and respond to, SRGBV in schools in Viet Nam. It represents one practical research-based step amongst many in Viet Nam’s response to SRGBV.
A range of sociologists have variously defined school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV). In this report, SRGBV is conceptualised as based on gender and sexuality stereotypes, roles and norms. Any learner, irrespective of their sexual orientation or whether they are female, male, transgender or intersex, may be affected. SRGBV is understood in this report to include, for example, physical, verbal, sexual, social and technology-related violence. SRGBV can occur in a range of settings in and around schools, ranging from in school bathrooms to virtual locations via a range of technology. It can also occur beyond the boundaries of the school itself.
Despite under-reporting, research literature suggests SRGBV is widespread globally and in the Asia-Pacific region. Research shows SRGBV can have long-term impacts on a child’s education, and mental and physical wellbeing. The literature review highlighted some noteworthy work in the region, but also showed there was a strong need for national research on the extent, nature, impacts and supports around SRGBV in Viet Nam. Research objectives for the study emerging from the literature included goals of exploring the awareness levels and attitudes of key education stakeholder groups about SRGBV, the nature and scale of SRGBV (including homophobic and transphobic violence), contributing factors, impacts and prevention/support measures in schools.
An investigation was undertaken into the nature and extent of SRGBV in schools in North, Central and South Viet Nam. Ethical issues were carefully planned including informed consent and privacy for participants. The commitment and support of MOET was essential to enabling stakeholders to freely discuss the sensitive topic of SRGBV. A range of local and international research experts, departmental and school contacts, and community organizations aided the project. The study applied an emancipatory methodology aiming to achieve social justice goals. Mixed methods of in-person and online surveys, focus group discussions and in-depth interviews were used to collect data from four distinct groups of participants. These included general school students, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (abbreviated to LGBT in this report as in the broader literature) students, school staff (including administrators and teachers) and parents.
Key findings from the evidence provided by the 3,698 survey participants, 280 participants in Focus Group Discussions (FGD) and 85 In-Depth Interviews (IDIs) with students, school staff and parents:
• Awareness of SRGBV: There was limited awareness of all stakeholders of SRGBV, with most primarily considering actions that cause physical injury and overlooking other forms such as sexual harassment, or psychosocial violence such as ostracism. Parents and teachers were comparatively more aware of, and concerned about, technology-related violence than students. LGBT students demonstrated stronger awareness of the negative long-term effects of verbal and psychosocial violence than other groups. A portion of both students and parents still accepted teachers’ methods of maintaining discipline in schools through such behaviours as hitting and scolding. Parents were often particularly unaware of school responsibilities to help prevent SRGBV off-campus, while some same-sex attracted and gender non-conforming youth did not understand that the discrimination they were experiencing was a form of violence.
• Experience of SRGBV: More than half (51.9%) of all students reported having experienced at least one kind of violent behaviours in the last 6 months. LGBT students (particularly more ‘feminine’ same sex attracted males or gender non-conforming/transgender youth) were at particularly high risk of victimisation and exposure to all kinds of violence – 71% of LGBT students had been physically abused, 72.2% verbally abused. Additionally, male students experienced higher rates of all forms of violence (except for being a target of gossip) than females. Incidents of all forms of SRGBV were more prevalent among lower secondary students than upper secondary students.
• Motivations behind SRGBV: Stereotypes and prejudices (against femininity, gender non-conformity and perceived ‘weakness’) were seen to motivate SRGBV. Parents and teachers also mentioned the physio-psychological characteristics of puberty, hormones and identity-establishment among peers as coming into play. Social marginalisation by wealth status, ethnicity, language, or location (e.g. rural areas) were also mentioned by teachers, administrators and parents, and the possibility of the intersections of perceived difference compounding ostracism.
• Impact of SRGBV: Victims of SRGBV were more likely to experience reduced academic performance and participation, and have symptoms of negative psychological wellbeing including depression, thoughts or attempts of self-harm or suicide. While these negative impacts were found in victimised students of all categories, this was more pronounced among LGBT victims. The hindered learning opportunities often further impacted and isolated the affected students who failed to meet the expectations of both their schools and families.
• Students’ response to SRGBV: Roughly one-third of student victims of SRGBV reported seeking assistance from adults; however a portion also expressed a lack of confidence in adults’ capacity to solve the problem. Student bystanders who witnessed SRGBV most often took three main options, namely: informing school staff, trying to intervene, and doing nothing. The frequency of all three options was relatively similar, although the proportion of LGBT students who would “do nothing” was higher than that of non-LGBT male and female students. Fear was a powerful determinant for inaction; the students who did nothing in response to SRGBV mainly said that they were scared of getting involved, of revenge being taken upon them, or perhaps becoming bullied themselves.
• Prevention programmes and response interventions: There are vast differences between school staff’s and students’ assessments of SRGBV prevention/response mechanisms in school, with 95.4% of the teachers/school administrators and only 14.6% of students affirming measures in place. Some schools had concrete structural measures to prevent violence from occurring, including camera surveillance systems and counselling rooms; however these measures were not widespread, seemed to be in their early days, and still of limited effect. Limited resources were identified, and their effectiveness limited without holistic plans to address SRGBV.
Discussion & Recommendations
Curriculum developers and policy-makers need to actively redress the gaps in SRGBV knowledge and process skills of all of the different education stakeholders through clear education resources revision and policy development offering distinct guidelines in a number of areas. Schools need to address SRGBV directly through innovative education techniques and engagement with related campaigns on SRGBV and LGBT themes to create safe and supportive learning environments. Staff training, clear regulation codes and processes, specific counselling provisions and uniform code flexibility, and community partnerships are also recommended. Further research may be needed to overcome some of the gaps in this study including representation of more provinces, longitudinal work, and investigation into what works to reform perpetrators and build resilience among groups at high risk of marginalisation.