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Bullying of LGBTI students 'pervasive' in Asia-Pacific

Nov 20. 2015
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By The Nation

BULLYING of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) students is widespread in Asia-Pacific and the response from the education sector to this problem is inadequate, a new report released by Unesco Bangkok has found.

“From Insult to Inclusion: Asia-Pacific report on school bullying, violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity” is the first comprehensive review focusing specifically on the issue of bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression (SOGIE).

The report details the extent of the problem in Asia-Pacific, the devastating impact of this type of abuse, and the measures governments are taking and could take to address it. “From Insult to Inclusion” draws on over 500 published and unpublished documents, peer-reviewed literature and media reports from around 40 countries in Asia-Pacific.

It also draws direct input from dozens of key stakeholders in the region and feedback from a regional consultation involving more than 100 people from 13 countries hosted by Unesco and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in June 2015.

Unesco Bangkok director Gwang-Jo Kim said the report was timely as it came at the outset of a new global education agenda centred on the 4th Sustainable Development Goal, which called for “inclusive and quality education for all”.

“The right to a safe and inclusive education is not the prerogative of those who fall into the broadest groupings of our respective societies,” Kim said. “The power of education and its transformative potential lies in the broadness of its reach, in the potential it has to impact the lives of those who may otherwise be considered in the margins of society, and indeed to change social norms and practices towards inclusive and respectful societies.”

While most Asia-Pacific governments have committed to ensuring every child’s right to quality education without discrimination or exclusion, the realities faced by LGBTI students in Asia-Pacific schools shows that many governments are failing to live up to these pledges.

The report found that most LGBTI youths in Asia-Pacific have been subjected to some form of violence or bullying in school – in some countries as many as four out of five LGBTI students are affected. The impact of this abuse on students is devastating, with the report showing that in some countries one in three LGBTI students suffer depression while up to seven in 10 self-harm and nearly five in 10 have attempted suicide.

Justine Sass, Asia-Pacific HIV and health education adviser for Unesco Bangkok, said the report was a call to action to address bullying, the impacts of which reverberate from the personal level through to wider society.

“There is a significant body of research in ‘From Insult to Inclusion’ indicating that SOGIE-based bullying, violence and discrimination is pervasive, and has a toxic and long-lasting impact on learners as well as on school communities,” Sass said. “Ministries of education have to do their part to creating safe and inclusive learning environments in which all students can thrive.”

“From Insult to Inclusion” presents personal accounts of LGBTI students who have faced these challenges, along with a look at the broader legal and educational contexts in countries throughout the region in relation to bullying on the basis of SOGIE.

The study found that in Asia-Pacific only Australia and New Zealand have institutionalised evidence-based and whole-school responses that provide protection for LGBTI students and that only a few countries have inte?grated SOGIE issues into national cur?ricula.

Unesco Bangkok and the UNDP have partnered to offer targeted sup?port in China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, and will support national consultations in those countries to advance action to address areas identified in the study.

The report was launched at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club at a spe?cial event that included a panel dis?cussion in which an LGBTI student shared her experiences in dealing with the challenges outlined in “From Insult to Inclusion”.

Golf, a 16-year-old boy in Thailand, recounted that he had a tough time making friends at primary school, because with his effeminate manners he could not fit in with boys or girls. He said his life got even more difficult when he moved to a boarding school for junior secondary education.

“Older boys teased me. They even kicked their football at me,” he said, adding that he did not dare raise the issue with his teachers because he was afraid the bullying would become worse.

He said his mother visited him every weekend and encouraged him to stay. However, when Golf could not bear the bullying any further, his mother agreed to have to enrolled in another school.

“At the new school, I found my own group. There are girlish boys like me, so I feel much better. I can even run and play in the field,” he said.

He also said that if possible, he wanted to be good friends with straight girls and boys. “But to them, I must seem like an oddball,” he said wryly.


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