The European Union, VVOB, the Institute for Graduate Studies and Research, and local civil society organisations are teaming up in Suriname to tackle gender-based violence and to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights among adolescents in lower secondary vocational schools.
The majority of students enrolled in Suriname’s lager beroepsonderwijs (LBO), or lower secondary vocational education and training, come from very vulnerable environments. LBO students regularly showcase problem behaviour that leads to truancy. Drop-out rates for this population are exceptionally high: 28.4 per cent.
Problem behaviour such as unhealthy and unsafe sex, transactional sex, and violent relationships, have a strong underlying association with persisting unequal gender roles and norms, adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights (ASRHR), and gender-based violence (GBV) against and among adolescents.
Teachers and school leaders of Suriname’s LBO schools are at a loss. There is no training, policy framework, or referral system in place to provide them with guidance in addressing these challenges. As a result, students cannot fall back on a safe and supportive environment at school where they can critically reflect on gender, ASRHR, and GBV, and where their problem behaviour is met with an appropriate response.
A whole school approach is needed, that encompasses all stakeholders and addresses the challenges from different angles. In the coming three years, VVOB is teaming up with a group of local expert organisations in the iGROW project, co-financed by the European Union, to transform ten LBO schools into safe schools for all students.
Local civil society organisations (CSOs) Stichting Lobi, YAM, Stichting ProHealth, and Stichting YES are based in Paramaribo and have a history – and future – of educating Surinamese youth on ASRHR and GBV. VVOB secures the sustainability of the iGROW project in joining forces with these like-minded partners. Likewise, the Institute for Graduate Studies and Research (IGSR) of the Anton de Kom University will provide more technical expertise on gender, ASRHR and GBV. Their support will improve the quality of iGROW's activities, all the while developing the capacity of the partner CSOs in this regard. IGSR will also closely monitor, and conduct research on, the implementation of the whole school approach. This will inform evidence-based conclusions and recommendations for further replication and upscaling of the iGROW project.
Whole school approach
The iGROW project brings VVOB and partner CSOs together to work towards a common whole school approach that has three dimensions. First, LBO teachers and school directors will acquire improved knowledge, policy, and practice to adequately and appropriately address ASRHR and GBV. Second, LBO students will find safe spaces at school where they can openly and critically speak about ASRHR and GBV. Third, CSOs will invest in appropriate outreach to the students’ parents or caregivers and support them in addressing issues of ASRHR and GBV.
Strong, effective, and sustainable collaboration between LBO schools and civil society is an absolute crucial element of iGROW, as it significantly improves outreach to vulnerable adolescents at risk of dropping out, as well as to their parents or caregivers, thus contributing to a safe and supportive school environment.