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close this bookWHO Information Series on School Health - Document 3 - Violence Prevention: An Important Element of a Health-promoting School (UNESCO - WHO, 1999, 61 p.)
close this folder1. INTRODUCTION
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentWhy did WHO prepare this document?
View the documentWho should read this document?
View the documentWhat is meant by ''violence''?
View the documentWhat are the causes of violence?
View the documentWhy focus efforts through schools?
View the documentHow should this document be used?


This document introduces health promotion strategies to improve the health, education and development of children, families and community members through a Health-Promoting School. It is based on the recommendations of the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion(1) and will help people to apply a new approach to public health, one that creates on-going conditions conducive to health, as well as reductions in prevailing health concerns.

The concepts and strategies introduced in this document apply to all countries, however, some of the examples provided may be more relevant to some countries than to others.

Why did WHO prepare this document?

"Together, we must build and develop for the future a culture of peace based on non-violence, dialogue, and mutual respect and social justice. This is neither easy nor a quick task. Nevertheless, it is possible and at a time of rising waves of new forms of conflict and violence, it is absolutely necessary."

The Dalai Lama, January 1995.

Violence affects everyone. It undermines the health, learning potential and economic well-being of people everywhere. As Carlyle Guerra de Macedo, Director of the Pan American Health Organization, notes, "Terrorism, genocide, political assassination, bloody crimes, abuse, assault, torture, harassment, and other modes of force, in violation of the most basic human rights, have become part of our daily existence.(2)

It is time for us to go beyond treating and trying to manage the health consequences of violence; we must prevent it. It is time to change the social, behavioural and environmental factors that lead to violence. The World Health Organization (WHO) has prepared this document to help people understand the nature of a Health-Promoting School and how efforts to promote peace and prevent violence might be planned, implemented and evaluated as part of the development of a Health-Promoting School. It will focus on simple, concrete steps that schools can take without major investments of resources. It is designed as a starting point, to be modified and enriched as more knowledge and experience is gained in the prevention of violence through schools.

Who should read this document?

This document has been prepared to help those willing to advocate for and initiate violence prevention and health promotion efforts through schools. This may include:

· Members of the school community, including teachers and their representative organizations, students, staff, volunteers, parent groups, coaches, caretakers and school-based health workers.

· Community leaders, local residents, health care providers and members of organised groups (e.g., community groups interested in improving health, education and well-being in the school and community).

· Members of non-governmental agencies and institutions responsible for planning and implementing the interventions described in this document, including programme staff and consultants of international health, education and development agencies who are interested in working with schools to promote health.

· Governmental policy-makers and decision-makers, programme planners and coordinators at local, district (provincial) and national levels.

What is meant by ''violence''?

Violence takes many forms and is understood differently in different countries and among different cultures. While there is no universally accepted definition of violence, the following is a working definition of violence that encompasses the broad range of understanding:

"Violence is the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation."(3)

Three main categories of violence can be identified: (4)

Self-inflicted violence refers to intentional and harmful behaviours directed at oneself, for which suicide represents the fatal outcome. Other types include attempts to commit suicide and behaviours where the intent is self destructive, but not lethal (e.g., self mutilation).

Interpersonal violence is violent behaviour between individuals and can best be classified by the victim-offender relationship. For example, interpersonal violence may occur among acquaintances or among persons who are not acquainted. Interpersonal violence may also be specified according to the age or sex of the victim. Violence against women is an important example and is occurring worldwide, often unrecognized. The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines violence against women as, "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life."(5) Such violence may occur in the family or within the general community, and may be perpetrated or condoned by the state.

Other types of interpersonal violence include child abuse, bullying, harassment and criminally-linked violence such as assault and homicide.

Organised violence is violent behaviour of social or political groups motivated by specific political, economic or social objectives. Armed conflict and war may be considered the most highly organised types of violence. Other examples include racial or religious conflicts occurring among groups and gang or mob violence.

What are the causes of violence?

The causes of violence are complicated and vary across and within different cultural and economic contexts. (6,7) Factors that are thought to contribute to the development of violent behaviour include individual characteristics such as:

· knowledge, attitudes, thoughts about violence and skill deficits, such as poorly developed communication skills

· drug and alcohol use

· having witnessed or been victimised by interpersonal violence

· access to firearms and other weapons

There are also many contributing forces at the family level, including:

· lack of parental affection and support
· exposure to violence in the home
· physical punishment and child abuse
· having parents or siblings involved in criminal behaviour

In addition, economic and societal factors such as the following can contribute to violence: (4)

· Unequal power relations between men and women, or between different ethnic groups
· Poverty, urbanisation and overcrowding
· rapid economic development with high levels of unemployment among young people
· media influences
· social norms supporting violent behaviour
· availability of weapons

Why focus efforts through schools?

Violence prevention efforts that address factors at all levels will be the most successful. Schools certainly cannot control many factors that contribute to violence — military spending, arms sales, corrupt members of governments and police forces. However, the education sector can assist the network of institutions working to identify and stop the cycle of violence. Schools can address a broad range of behaviours, skills, communication patterns, attitudes and school policies and conditions that support and perpetuate violence. For example, educational programmes can challenge the cultural norms that support violent behaviour against women or ethnic/religious minorities, and teach alternative attitudes and skills which enhance the "non-violent solution of conflicts, respect for human rights, democracy, intercultural understanding, tolerance and solidarity."(8,9) They can also prevent violence from occurring on school grounds, thus providing a safe place in which students and staff can work and learn.

Specifically, this document suggests ways that schools can:

· Create public policy that promotes health. This document provides information and rationale that can be used to persuade others of the importance of violence prevention and to advocate for increased local, district and national support for violence prevention and health promotion through schools.

· Develop skills. This document identifies the skills that young people need to learn and practise in order to resolve conflict through peaceful, non-violent and socially constructive means, preferably before they face high-risk situations and before many drop out of school.

· Reorient health services. This document describes how schools can enhance access to screening, diagnostic, treatment and counselling services either within the school or through referrals to community services for those suffering physical or psychological trauma from violence.

· Develop supportive environments. This document describes simple, low-cost changes that schools can make to improve their physical and psychosocial environments and create an atmosphere that supports violence prevention.

· Mobilise community action. Recognising the interdependence of school and community, this document identifies ways the school can interact with community members, parents and local services to reinforce violence prevention initiatives, and to support and guide young people in all realms of their lives.

In implementing these suggestions, schools take essential steps toward becoming a Health-Promoting School.

How should this document be used?

The arguments in Section 2 can be used to advocate for violence prevention interventions in schools. Section 3 helps create a strong basis for local action and for planning interventions that are relevant to the needs and circumstances of the school and community. Section 4 details how to integrate violence prevention efforts into various components of a Health-Promoting School. Section 5 assists in evaluating efforts to make violence prevention an essential part of a Health-Promoting School. Section 6 provides recommendations for ensuring continuity and sustainability in the school and community.

For specific guidance on planning, implementing and evaluating, this document should be used in conjunction with the WHO document Local Action: Creating Health-Promoting Schools. Local Action: Creating Health Promoting Schools provides practical guidance, tools and tips from Health-Promoting Schools around the world and can help tailor efforts to the needs of specific communities.