Jenny Parkes (Ed.). Gender violence in poverty contexts: The educational challenge. New York, NY: Routledge. (2015). 216 pp. $49.94 (paperback).
(ISBN 978-0-415-71249-1)

Gender violence in poverty contexts: The educational challenge is an edited volume that confronts the dichotomies surrounding violence and safety and illustrates the extent to which violence is inextricably linked to systems and structures of gender, poverty, and education. The reader learns how violence can permeate all social spaces, linking extreme acts to micro-aggressions that often go unseen and unrecognized because they have become normalized as a part of everyday life. A major theme of the book is the multi-dimensionality of gender, poverty, and violence, all of which emerge from social structures and institutions and are reproduced within both political and personal interactions. Parkes’ edited volume challenges the concept of a school as an inherently safe space, pulling together the relatively new but quickly growing body of research on gender violence in education, deepening the theoretical and situational analysis of this body of work. The collection provides an overview of different facets of gender violence, their interlinkages with the structures and effects of poverty, and the implications for the educational context which too often reproduces rather than challenges gender violence. Gender violence and education are described as essentially intersectional, sitting at the nexus of different forms of inequality that shape and normalize aggression and reproduce inequality on small and large scales. This book shows how students are pushed and pulled out of school by gender violence and poverty, demonstrating that schools shaped by inequality and violence are compromised in their ability to deliver quality education. It shows that learning outcomes and education quality, not to mention broader social cohesion, are contingent upon prioritizing gender equality and child protection in and through education.

The collection has three cross-cutting themes. The first is the complex intersections between structures of violence, inequality, marginalization, and poverty, and the necessity to examine all gender violence with this intersectional lens. The second theme is the relationship between violence, subjectivity, and agency. Instead of focusing on extreme violence, the chapters consider how violence characterizes everyday lives, exploring the interactions between the influence of violence on individuals’ decision-making and the spaces in which resistance to inequality can occur. The third theme is the framing of gender as a conceptual lens to examine “intersecting structural power inequalities” (p. 5) and the reproduction of gender norms and expectations within educational contexts.

The book is divided into four parts. The first, Theory and Diagnostics, contains an introduction by Parkes, which provides an overview of the theoretical, methodological, and ethical approaches and perspectives used to understand, analyze, and research gender violence in relation to education and poverty. Chapter 2, by Parkes and Unterhalter, surveys theoretical perspectives on the book’s four intersecting subjects of analysis — gender, violence, poverty, and education — and the current research on violence, gender, and education’s ability to combat inequality. In Chapter 3, Leach introduces methodological challenges to research on gender violence in educational contexts, identifying approaches to navigating sensitive terrain and establishing ethical standards. The second part of the book, Experiencing Violence in the Home and the School, explores how children and adults negotiate the systemic and structural inequities that interact with their education. Chapter 4, by Pells, Wilson, and Thi Thu Hang, analyzes the response of Vietnamese children to violence experienced in the home and the influence on their educational outcomes and experiences. Morrow and Singh describe children’s perceptions of corporal punishment in Andra Pradesh, India in Chapter 5, using a Foucauldian perspective of discipline, punishment, and power. In Chapter 6, Tao applies a human capabilities analysis to convey the environmental constraints that cause teachers to feel compelled to use corporal punishment in three case study schools in Arusha, Tanzania.

The third part of the book, Negotiating Gender Violence, focuses on the ways individuals within and outside of the education system, including those typically perceived as persecutors, navigate their roles in perpetuating and resisting gender violence. DeLannoy and Swartz’s Chapter 7 examines young Black men in South Africa’s competing identities amidst deprivation and violence, focusing on their educational decision-making and the extent to which positive social networks enhance educational outcomes. Chapter 8 by Buller explains the relationship of urban young men living in impoverished neighbourhoods to structural, symbolic and everyday violence in Lima, Peru, concentrating on the relationship between men, masculinity, and violence. The final chapter in this section is Heslop et al.’s analysis of a longitudinal study of a project addressing gender violence in schools in Ghana, Kenya, and Mozambique, where they illuminate the nuances of prescriptive sexuality in anti-violence initiatives, showing that expectations of school girls as non-sexual shut down important discussions about consensual and non-consensual sexual relationships.

The final section, Policy and Interventions, looks at positions adopted by state and non-state actors as they try to address gender violence and often reinforce oppressive gender or poverty constructs in the process. Wilding’s Chapter 10 describes how two local NGOs addressing urban violence in Brazil shift from limiting their program to young men and boys to instrumentally including young women and girls. In Chapter 11, Wells analyzes the discourse surrounding schools and violence in two international NGO reports on education in developing countries, critiquing their portrayal of education that minimizes the influence of discriminatory gender norms within the school context. Next, Moletsane, Mitchell, and Lewin’s chapter explores policies surrounding gender violence, teenage pregnancy and gender equity policy in South Africa, attending to the mismatch between policy intent and implementation and illustrating the power of participatory visual methods to amplify the voices of women and girls. Parkes’ conclusion reminds researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to theorize and develop policies and programs to address gender violence in a multidimensional way, looking at how education, environment, culture, and economy combine to create violent lives and calling for a reframing to consider issues through the lens of young people.

This book has immediate importance theoretically and practically for policymakers and practitioners tackling issues of gender violence and education in the Global South. The contents of the book brought astute and essential diagnoses to problems I personally had been confronting in both academic and project implementation work, illuminating shadowy challenges that had been difficult to pin down. Less clear, however, was the prescription for adapting programming to respond to the challenges that emerge. In her conclusion, Parkes provides a model for countering gender violence at the structural, systems, and interpersonal / personal level, recommending that researchers, government, and non-government actors focus on multi-dimensional efforts to enhance school cultures rather than focusing on single issues. The practical implications of this are teased out further in the comprehensive literature review on efforts to address gender violence in schools conducted by Parkes, Heslop, Johnson Ross, Westerveld, and Unterhalter (2016) that provides a concrete summary of effective (and ineffective) interventions and complements the book’s more theoretical approach.

A difficulty with providing descriptions of effective multi-dimensional interventions is that government systems generally do not work within intersectional or multi-dimensional approaches. They are more likely to try to tackle one challenge directly without considering the influence of other forms of structural, systematic, and symbolic violence and inequity. The call for new research and policy interventions that use a multi-level intersectional approach is laudable but steps for doing so remain unclear. A mandate to take a broader, multi-dimensional and multi-level approach is clearly established and Parkes prompts scholars and policymakers to provide examples that can be studied, tested, and built upon in order to establish stronger examples of what works. This mandate and the examples it draws upon relate to the Global South and to primary and secondary education; however, they could also apply to poverty contexts within the Global North and to higher, non-formal, and early childhood education. Parkes’ collection effectively consolidates the emerging body of literature on this critical topic and defines its next steps. She creates a space and an agenda for applying a multidimensional perspective to gender violence in poverty contexts through the development and assessment of policy and programming initiatives to enhance equality and protection in educational systems. After hearing this call, it is now over to the global community of scholars and policymakers working on this issue to hear it and make it their own.

Catherine Vanner University of Ottawa


Parkes, J. L. N., Heslop, J., Johnson Ross, F., Westerveld, R., & Unterhalter, E. (2016). A Rigorous Review of Global Research Evidence on Policy and Practice on School-Related Gender-Based Violence. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/education/files/SRGBV_review_FINAL_V1_web_version.pdf