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Going from ‘Insult to Inclusion’ for LGBTI learners in Asia-Pacific: Key Findings

Most Asia-Pacific governments have made commitments to safe and inclusive learning environments.

Along with treaties and conventions safeguarding all children’s right to education, this includes recent regional commitments to Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education.” This goal specifies that by 2030, all learners acquire the knowledge and skills to promote human rights, gender equality, peace and non-violence, and for education facilities to be built and upgraded to be gender-sensitive and provide non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.

But are governments in the region living up to these commitments?

Our study found that in many areas, governments are falling short of their duty to ensure the right of all learners to safe, inclusive learning environments. These are some of the key findings of “From Insult to Inclusion” that provide a look at violence in schools in Asia-Pacific, its impact, and education sector response to this problem.

What is the extent of the problem of school violence in Asia-Pacific and what role does gender play in this abuse?

■ School violence is reported by many students throughout the region. In global school-based student health surveys undertaken in 20 Asia-Pacific countries, between 23%-64% of boys and 16%-68% of girls report having been bullied.

■ Cyberbullying is a growing concern:  of 25 countries in a recent worldwide survey among youth aged 8-17, the three countries reporting the highest rates of online bullying were in Asia: China (70%), Singapore (58%) and India (53%).

■ Studies in Australia and Thailand are part of a growing body of research that shows that online and offline harassment are closely interlinked, with harassment online often associated with violence offline.

■ Gender is a key factor in school violence. In general, boys are more likely to report being bullied than girls, and may also be more likely to bully others, particularly through physical violence. Limited data is available on the experience of transgender or gender non-conforming learners, and Australia was the only country to have undertaken a targeted survey among intersex persons.

What forms do violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression (SOGIE) take in Asia-Pacific?

■ Over 30 studies, of different scope and scale, provide data on SOGIE-based bullying, violence and discrimination in schools. These document consistently high levels of abuse driven by homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, intersex prejudice, heteronormativity and intolerance. Significant data gaps exist in South Asia and in the Pacific, but what is available in the region is consistent with research in other settings and is an important call to action for all countries.

■ In most studies, the majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students report having experienced some form of bullying or violence; 77% of LGBT students in one online study reported this abuse.

■ Verbal abuse such as homophobic remarks, threats and insults is the most common form of violence reported.

■ Rates of psychosocial violence, such as exclusion and isolation, were also common across many studies, while institutional exclusion even existed in some schools.

■ Transgender and gender non-conforming students appear to be most commonly targeted for school bullying and discrimination, as found in studies in India, Nepal, New Zealand and Viet Nam.

■ Violence is typically perpetrated by other students; however, teachers and other education staff can also be responsible; 41% of LGBTI students in one study in the Republic of Korea reported this abuse.

■ School curricula and textbooks in many countries still use stigmatizing and inaccurate language and images, or simply exclude LGBTI persons. A review of textbooks in China found that 88% classified homosexuality as a mental disorder. This is a form of institutional violence and discrimination.

■ Restrictions on gender expression, including gender-specific dress codes, uniforms and haircut policies, were reported by transgender and gender non-conforming learners to be sources of significant distress, including in studies in the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam, causing many  to drop out.

■ Gender-specific toilets, events and activities were also reportedly sites of violence and exclusion for LGBT learners. In one study in Australia, 9% of learners did not use the school toilets during the day to avoid trouble. LGBTI youth facing abuse are discouraged from reporting due to insufficient support in many countries. For example, in one study in Hong Kong SAR only 11.5% were willing to seek help.

What are the effects of SOGIE-based bullying, violence and discrimination on learners?

■ Depression, anxiety, and contemplation or attempts of suicide were higher among LGBT youth than among their non-LGBT peers in several countries, and gender non-conforming or transgender youth appear to be particularly affected. In Indonesia, LGBT persons who had been bullied in school said it affected their ability to learn and caused many to drop out; 17% of respondents in this study said they had attempted suicide.

■ SOGIE-based bullying, violence and discrimination affects educational performance and achievement. In China, 24% of bullied LGBT students reported losing interest in their studies. Hostile school climates contributed to LGBTI learners dropping out of school early, as shown in studies in Australia, India, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Viet Nam.

■ Exclusion and discrimination in education can have life-long impacts on employment options, economic earning potential and access to benefits and social protection. A study in Thailand found that for LGBT students, the discrimination, violence and exclusion they faced in education continued in the workforce.

■ The broader societal economic impact of discrimination and violence has also been documented in India, where the economic cost of homophobia was estimated to be 0.1-1.7% of India’s Gross Domestic Product, or at least US $1.9 billion. Other economic studies are also underway by the Being LGBTI in Asia initiative, led by UNDP.


How is the education sector responding to these challenges?

■ A broader enabling legal protection framework exists in some countries for LGBT persons. Nearly ten countries have taken steps to protect LGBTI people from discrimination and abuse and more than ten have introduced reforms that make it easier for transgender people to obtain legal recognition of their gender identity. Nearly 20 of the 96 States supporting related UN resolutions in the General Assembly are in the Asia-Pacific region.

■ No countries have institutionalized evidence-based and whole-school responses that provide protection for LGBTI persons, apart from Australia and New Zealand.

■ In many countries, including Thailand and Viet Nam, school practice appears to be advancing before policy or sector changes, often with support from LGBTI organizations.

■ Most countries have specific education policies, laws and/or guidelines that uphold the rights and dignity of children in the educational environment, which include the legal prohibition of violence.

■ Less than one-third of Asia-Pacific countries were found to have specific laws or policies that explicitly addressed bullying, these being: Australia, Hong Kong SAR and the Taiwan province of China, Fiji, India, Japan, PNG, Philippines, Singapore, the Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam.

■ Only two countries (Fiji and the Philippines) were found to have national laws or policies that reference to SOGIE-based bullying, while India has recently established affirmation action measures to address discrimination in education among hijra (third gender) students. Australia is the only country to have anti-discrimination legislation and education policies to protect the rights of intersex persons.

■ Only a few countries, such as Australia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Nepal and the Taiwan province of China, were found to have integrated SOGIE issues in national curriculum, largely at the secondary school or tertiary levels.

■ Nepal has among the most advanced curriculum content regarding SOGIE, taught in health and physical education from grades 6 to 9, and also integrated into other areas.

■ Limited teacher education programmes are available on violence prevention and SOGIE issues, with teacher training largely small-scale, ad-hoc, and not institutionalized in pre-service training.

■ Schools are often inadequately prepared to link LGBTI learners to counselling services or other sources of support.


What do countries in Asia-Pacific need to do to advance and respect the rights of all learners?

The report’s recommendations call for comprehensive education programmes that are evidence-based and supported by policy; strengthened partnerships across sectors and with young people themselves; and more systematic data collection of the situation and the response. It is through such policies, programmes and partnerships that the rights of LGBTI young people will be recognised, including their right to education, non-discrimination and health.


For more on the launch of “From Insult to Inclusion”, please visit our Facebook event page:

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From Insult to Inclusion: Voices of Asia-Pacific Youth (quotes from report):


UNESCO, 2015. From Insult to Inclusion: Asia-Pacific report on school bullying, violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Bangkok: UNESCO.

Report will be released on midnight, 19 November 2015 @