When is it safe for a woman to walk home by herself at night without being threatened with assault by a man or worse? And when do we come to a point when all women are safe from their spouses in their own homes? When are schools and workplaces free from gender-based violence? How can we use the power of education to turn these standards around?
Over a period of just a few months, we have been reminded again of the extent to which women are vulnerable to violence and harassment. The murder of Sarah Everard in the UK was followed by the meaningless shooting of six Asian-American women in Georgia. In February, 317 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from their boarding school in the northwestern state of Zamfara. In India, when people are still reeling from the September 2020 gang rape and the subsequent death of a 19-year-old Dalit woman in the Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh, a supreme court judge in New Delhi has sparked outrage after he was quoted asking for an accusation of the rapist whether he would marry his school-age victim. In Australia, former government employee Brittany Higgins said she was raped by a male colleague in the minister’s office in 2019.Meanwhile, it was reported that the male government employee formed a Facebook group to they can share videos of sexual acts carried out in Parliament in Canberra.
Violence and sexual assault against girls and women is more common than we think. Globally, about 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.
On Everyone’s Invited page, an online campaign against rape culture established in the UK, more than 15,000 accounts of harassment about sexual assault and harassment were shared by the girls. and boy. It is worth noting how many accounts take place in educational institutions. Worrying and abound is some of the evidence that newspapers refer to a school as a “hot spot of sexual violence”.
In Australia, a similar movement began in mid-February, after Chanel Contos, 23, asked her friends that they had been raped or sexually assaulted when they attended private schools in Sydney. The survey has become a petition and is now a movement, with thousands advocating a full consent education in Australian schools.
What is evident from these posts is the level of confusion surrounding consent – a fundamental principle of gender equality and healthy relationships. Why are girls and young men unsure of what consensual relationships are, when certain actions are appropriate and when not?
Obviously, something is not right. We can blame the proliferation of social media and pornographic sites that children under the age of 8 are visiting, but in the end, these incidents reflect the general lack of discussion about sexual relationships. The solution is not a consent app suggested by a top Australian police officer, but a comprehensive sex education in schools – starting at a young age.
Gender-inclusive education classes are important in equipping girls and boys with the skills they need to make responsible choices in their lives. It teaches them how to negotiate the terms of their sexual activity, what to do if there’s sexual pressure from someone, understand the importance of consent, and how to resist peer pressure to accept violence. It fosters attitudes among students based on mutual understanding and respect – the foundation of a good relationship.
But comprehensive sex education is not taught everywhere. In the UK, it was not until last year that elementary schools were required to teach relationship education, including information on puberty and how to stay safe online. In Australia, there is no educational model for national consent and many schools stop teaching children on this topic at the age of 15 or 16 – when they need this information most.
Australia and the UK should look to developing countries for creative examples that have successfully tackled student violence and sexual harassment in and out of school.
The demographic boom in Africa and Asia, coupled with the surge in HIV / AIDS infection in the 1990s, forced many governments to find ways to tackle early pregnancy and diseases. sexually transmitted. To do so, they must design programs that address deeply inequitable gender norms in society that are harmful to girls and women. Many of these programs focus on empowering young women to say no to sex or how to negotiate condom use.
In Kenya, for example, an NGO called No Means No Worldwide, held consent classes, where girls were taught to say “No” and trained in self-defense. Meanwhile, young men are also trained to have a different outlook on gender and to show more positivity. In places where classes were taught, sexual harassment rates fell by 50%.
A Brazilian-based non-governmental organization called Promundo runs a powerful program of engaging young men and has successfully changed standards of violence related to masculinity through events. meeting with the participation of the people.
Different aspects of this program have been implemented in 26 countries around the world. Subsequent assessments in eight countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Southeast Europe showed positive changes in gender equality attitudes and self-reporting behaviors as couples sex. Next, violence, condom use and care.
When students are involved in planning and implementation, interventions aimed at preventing school violence and sexual harassment can be even more effective. The Save the Children’s Free Violence School in Afghanistan project involves the creation of a child protection committee, parent-teacher-student association and student councils in each school.
Gender education also doesn’t need to be an independent classroom. It could fit into existing curricula or even in extracurricular activities such as Permission to Play, a school-based program in Hyderabad, Pakistan that uses sports and games to empower students reduce violence in schools and change unequal gender norms. To date, the program has reached 8,000 children in 40 public schools and has reduced friends’ victim rates by 33% for boys and 59% for girls.
Consent can be taught. Aside from the importance of parents’ education in the home, schools also play an important role in teaching students the difference between good and bad relationships, the level of consent, and the magnitude. importance of gender equality. These issues need to be addressed soon. UNESCO has developed a technical guide for governments and recommends that some of the concepts surrounding healthy and unhealthy relationships start at the age of five.
If chats start early enough, they can be powerful for everyone, especially girls. They can alter norms – such as virulent masculinity – that lead to gender-based violence and help create a culture of nonviolence. Sex education can encourage students to effectively reflect their own prejudices and roles in society.
Sex education prevents sexual exploitation and violence and gets everyone’s attention. If schools do not actively shape conversation around sex and relationships, young people will continue to use the Internet as their sole source of information. We cannot continue to let that happen.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial views of Al Jazeera.