Launching the Safe Learning Institutions Initiative in Zimbabwe.
Tomorrow, Tuesday 20 November, the world commemorates Universal Children’s Day. This year the world will wear blue as we fight to build a world in which every child is in school, safe from harm and can fulfill their potential. We urge all Zimbabweans to wear blue tomorrow in line with this global initiative.
Children in Zimbabwe are consistently exposed to harm, both at home and in learning institutions. The major source of harm is the structural violence of an unequal society. The bulk of our children don’t have access to basic services, such as food, shelter, clothing, medication and education. The children are further exposed to physical harm through physical violence and sexual violence in our society. Political actors also invade learning institutions and abuse children in pursuit of private political interests.
The multiple ills confronting our Children inspired us to come together and create the Safe Learning Institutions Initiative, SLII. We understand that the magnitude of the task of tackling all challenges faced by children is immense, and thus we decided to focus on addressing the harms obtaining in learning institutions. The initiative aims at guaranteeing the safety of all learning institutions from all forms of harm. We are proud to announce the birth of this initiative which is a consortium of five diverse organizations with proven competencies and commitment in working towards social change.
Our consortium envisages learning institutions in which learners and teachers are able to maximise their gifts in an atmosphere of safety, dignity and respect.
- To persuade the government of Zimbabwe to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and Guidelines.
The Safe Schools Declaration was pronounced in 2015 in Oslo. Global leaders came together and agreed on the need of guaranteeing safety in schools and continued learning during conflict. Zimbabwe has experienced the disruption of learning during the liberation struggle and more recently during the political conflicts of 2002 and 2008. Endorsing the declaration will demonstrate our commitment as a country to the safety of our learning institutions. Cameroon recently endorsed the declaration and we hope Zimbabwe will follow suit soon.
- To develop a code of conduct for learning institutions that not only implements the Safe Schools Declaration, but includes the wider issues around safety in schools. A suggested (but not exclusive) list of issues would include political violence, but also sexual violence, gender-based violence, harassment, bullying, etc.;
- To create an independent, self-regulating body to implement the code of conduct, and to monitor and authenticate learning institutions adherence to the code of conduct.
SLII is composed of Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ); Human Rights NGO Forum; Research Advocacy Unit (RAU); Student Christian Movement (SCMZ) and VERITAS.
ARTUZ has been fighting for safe schools since its inception in 2012. The major highlight is when the Union in partnership with Veritas took ZANU PF to Masvingo High Court court in the run up to the July 30 2018 elections. The two organisations were seeking a Court order barring the ZANU PF party from abusing school properties, learners and teachers in pursuit of private political interests. The relief was granted on an interim basis by Justice Mafusire but was later overturned by the Supreme Court on flimsy technical grounds, legal experts have since branded the ruling political.
ARTUZ collapsed its solo safe schools campaign which began in 2016 into this bigger vision shared by the other partners.
Veritas won a landmark ruling banning Child marriages in 2016. The ruling will go a long way to guarantee the safety of young girls in learning institutions from pedophiles and other uncouth adults who use their wealth to lure young girls out of school. The value which Veritas brings to our consortium is indisputable.
The SCMZ is well known for advocating for safe spaces for learners in tertiary institutions. The Christian based movement has been up in arms with authorities in tertiary institutions pushing for an end of abuse of students, particularly female students. The failure by government to comprehensively fund tertiary education has left female students vulnerable to abuse by College staff and other sex predators. We are proud to have SCMZ in our midst.
RAU has conducted a series of research and produced comprehensive reports on the dangers faced by both learners and teachers in different schools countrywide. The research body brings its proven research competencies to our consortium.
The NGO forum produces detailed reports on human rights violations in the country. Their reports also cover the violations experienced in leaning institutions. In their State of Human Rights report of 2017 they cited that 48 000 school children were affected by Human Right violations. The empirical evidence they produce will guide the consortium in its drive to push for safe learning institutions.
The immediate task.
To achieve our objectives and eventually realize our vision, we are setting out on a blitz of consultative meetings. The meetings are set to gather views from teachers and learners on their understanding of safety in learning institutions. A questionnaire has been prepared and it will be used to solicit the views of teachers and learners. The outcome of this survey will form the baseline of our work beginning January 2019.
The consultation blitz will begin this Saturday 24 November 2018 in Hwedza district at Hwedza Inn beginning at 0900hrs. Teachers are going to be drawn from all the districts in Mashonaland East and a total of 60 teachers are set to participate. Ten Students from Seke Teachers’ College will also grace the occasion to share their views from the perspective of learners in tertiary institutions.
On the 1st of December we will mark the 16 days of activism in Bulawayo as we again seek to gather views of teachers from Matabeleland North and South. Learners from tertiary institutions in Bulawayo will participate in the event.
The Universal Children’s Day gives us a rare moment to reflect on what we can possibly do to guarantee safety of our children. We invite all citizens to come on board and share their idea of a safe school on our email, SafeLearningZim@gmail.com and on facebook page SafeLearningZim.