New study on bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools in Tamil Nadu, India


Ensuring that all students have access to safe and inclusive learning environments is a priority for UNESCO, hence its work towards eliminating school violence and bullying, including bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). In this context, the UNESCO New Delhi Office supported a community-based study on SOGI-based bullying, which was conducted in 2017 in schools in Tamil Nadu, India.

The research consisted of eight focus groups discussions and eight in-depth interviews with 69 young people who self-identified as “sexual/gender minority” youth; 20 key informant interviews with school teachers, head teachers and officials of the School Education Department; and a survey questionnaire administered to 371 sexual/gender minority youth. Recruitment of respondents for the survey was done through word-of-mouth. Inclusion criteria for the survey were as follows: being 18 years-old and above, self-identifying as a transgender woman or a man attracted to other men, and being able to give informed consent.

Prevalence and forms of SOGI-based bullying

Forms of SOGI-related bullying varied according to the levels of education. 60% and 50% of respondents said that they were mostly victims of physical bullying when they were respectively in middle/high school and higher secondary school, while 43% of respondents said that they were sexually harassed when they were in primary school.

Consequences of SOGI-based bullying

Nearly three fourth of respondents reported that they had reduced social interactions with their peers (73%), suffered from anxiety and depression (70%) and lost concentration in their studies (70%). 63% of participants reported lower academic performance, while more than half (53%) reported having skipped classes. About one-third (33.2%) reported that bullying played a key role in discontinuing school.

Response by school authorities

Only 18% of participants said that they had reported incidents of SOGI-based bullying to school authorities; and 53% of those who reported being bullied said that authorities took some action against the persons who bullied them.

Policy recommendations

A series of recommendations on how to prevent and address bullying were made by the study respondents. One of these recommendations is to ensure that school curricula provide age-appropriate information on sexual health, including information on sexual and gender diversity. Recommendations for school management are to implement anti-bullying policies, create awareness among students, train teachers on gender and sexual diversity, establish monitoring mechanisms, develop confidential channels for reporting bullying and provide supportive counselling services for victims of bullying.

This article was prepared based on the findings of recent publication titled: “Experiences of Bullying in Schools: A survey among sexual/gender minority youth in Tamil Nadu”, at the request of UNESCO to make available data evidence on the SDG Target 4.a.2. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and should not be attributed to UNESCO.

As the world moves forward on the implementation of the Education 2030 Agenda, UNESCO is committed to monitoring the progress towards the achievement of Target 4.a.2 focusing on School based Violence and Bullying. UNESCO has published its School Violence and Bullying Global Status Report as the reference for prognosis and response framework.