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At a glance: Nicaragua

Nicaragua: Child-friendly schools boost girls' self-esteem

© UNICEF/2005/Stark-Merklein
Boys and girls studying together at Victoria Rayo school.

LIMAY, Nicaragua/NEW YORK, 28 October 2005 – Victoria Rayo primary school in Limay, Estelí province, northern Nicaragua, has undergone remarkable changes since it joined the country's Child-Friendly and Healthy Schools Initiative in 2003. Water and sanitation facilities have been fixed, children are being served a daily meal and the classrooms are nicely decorated with learning materials.

More importantly, teachers and parents now pay special attention to what's being taught.  

“We don't tolerate any gender discrimination,” says Alex Bismar, head teacher at the school. “As a strategy,” he adds, “we make boys and girls do the same tasks, such as cleaning.

“If boys protest, we talk about why people shouldn't be limited by stereotypes, why women can do what men do, and vice-versa. Now, boys get involved in tasks that are not typical for men, not just at school but also at home.”

© UNICEF/2005/Stark-Merklein
Alex Bismar, head teacher at Victoria Rayo primary school, with Liliam Espinoza (wearing a red blouse) and other students.

Study on violence against children

Latin American children who were consulted for a study on violence against children commissioned by the United Nations Secretary-General reported everyday exposure to a variety of forms of violence between parents, including abuse of the mother by her man. A wide group of the children considers girls to experience most sexual abuse. 

Preliminary findings of the study were presented earlier this month at the UN General Assembly by Professor Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, the independent expert appointed to lead the project.

“Children on all continents have told me how much the routine violence they suffer in their homes, schools and other institutions hurts them, both physically and ‘inside,’” said Mr. Pinheiro at the UN. “They have also told me how adult approval and acceptance of this violence upsets them. The objective of the study must be to ensure that children enjoy the same protection as adults.”

The study, to be published in 2006, will provide the first detailed look at how children experience violence worldwide and what must be done to prevent and end this violence.

© UNICEF/2005/Stark-Merklein
Alex Bismar and his fifth grade students.

Banning violence

In Nicaragua’s child-friendly school model, any form of violence is banned. “We discuss in class how to resolve conflict without resorting to violence,” explains Mr. Bismar, “and we openly talk about machismo and gender stereo-types.”  

“When a student tells us about conflict and beating at home, we bring up the subject in the teacher-parents meetings we hold regularly,” says Mr. Bismar. “We won't put the parents on the spot,” he adds, “but talk about it in general terms.”  

The Child-Friendly and Healthy School Initiative in Nicaragua is being implemented by the Ministry of Education in cooperation with the ministries of Health and the Environment, the Water Authority, the Pan-American Health Organization, the World Food Programme and UNICEF. Currently, 184 schools have joined the Initiative.

Child-friendly schools boost girls' self-esteem 
Students elect their student government in a process that mirrors democratic electoral processes and teaches important civic responsibilities, giving boys and girls equal chances to be elected and develop leadership skills.

In Nicaragua 's male-dominated culture, girls flourish in the improved school environment. Many student governments are headed by girls who bear witness to the positive impact of their new roles.  

Eleven-year-old Liliam Espinoza, president of Victoria Rayo's student government since last year, radiates self-confidence. There is no stopping her once she starts listing the gains her school, and she, made since pupils have a say in school affairs.  

“I was very shy when I started working with the student government,” she says with a big smile, “but not anymore.”

Liliam says that working as a student delegate has taught her a lot. She and her peers organize sports events and school cleaning, but they also sit on the school council, together with teachers and parents, and zealously protect the integrity of the electoral processes they manage.  

“We have much more knowledge thanks to the student government,” she says, adding, “We have stronger opinions now and can express ourselves better.”  

It is not easy to ‘unlearn' attitudes and behaviour century-old cultures have taught men (and women). According to Mr. Bismar, “It will take a while to change, but with the new school model, the perspective of our teachers and parents has broadened already.”



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