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The social geographies of school-related gender-based violence on children’s school journeys in rural KwaZulu-Natal.

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This study examined the social geographies of school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) on children’s journeys to and from school (hereafter, school journeys). In particular, the study explored the spaces and places identified by primary school children as the social geographies of SRGBV on their school journeys. Moreover, the study investigated how primary school children negotiated their spatial safety when navigating their school journeys. Twenty primary schoolchildren, aged between 10-12 years and attending Grades 5-7, were purposively recruited from one resource-poor rural community in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, in South Africa (SA). The study recruited only primary schoolchildren who walked without adult supervision for at least five kilometres to and from school. Data was generated using participatory visual methodologies, which involved the use of photovoice and participatory mapping. These visual data were supplemented by four focus group discussions (FGD). Data analysis occurred in two layers. The first layer involved the analysis of visual artefacts and the explanations provided by the participants during the FGD. The second layer involved thematic and visual data analysis of all the data generated. Conceptually, the study was guided by both the feminist geographies and the broadly conceived children’s geographies frames of thinking. Feminist geographies provided a lens for understanding how gender shaped primary school children’s understandings and experiences of SRGBV on their school journey. On the other hand, children’s geographies provided a frame for understanding the sociocultural meanings children attached to their engagement with both their social geographies and the people they interacted with across space/place. Theoretically, the analysis was informed by the defensible space theory, which analysed how and why certain social geographies exposed primary school children to gender-based violence (GBV). Data analysis revealed a plethora of social geographies that rendered participants vulnerable to GBV on their school journeys. These geographies included dense bushes, taverns, and other public and economic spaces such as tuckshops in and around the community. Moreover, since these children walked to school without adult supervision, they reported a sense of fear and terror in navigating unsafe social geographies in their community. Finally, while they feared walking to school, participants demonstrated agency in negotiating their spatial safety by drawing from the available community and interpersonal resources. The use of participatory visual methods offered a unique opportunity to see how primary school children constructed and understood the social geographies of their school journeys, and how in these spaces, forms of GBV occurred.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.