Young people are a high-risk group for gender-based violence. Compared to other age groups, young women experience higher rates of victimisation and intimate partner violence, and a large proportion of men who have perpetrated sexual violence did so for the first time when young. Acceptance of gender-based violence is also high amongst young people, with one in four prepared to excuse partner violence if the perpetrator was so angry they ‘lost control’.
Young people of diverse gender or sexual orientation are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence, with school being the most common location where harassment occurs. Unsurprisingly, this leads to higher rates of depression and suicide amongst these groups.
Schools are a key setting through which we can tackle this complex problem, by promoting respectful relationships and investing in the development of resilience and social and emotional learning. The OECD defines these as the 21st Century skills, which are key for success in life and for success in employment. With an estimated 25 per cent of people aged 16-24 experiencing a mental health condition within the last year, these important life skills have the power to lift young people’s quality of life in many areas.
IT’S TIME TO TEACH RESILIENCE, RIGHTS AND RESPECT
A team of gender and education experts in the University of Melbourne’s Youth Research Centre have developed the Resilience, Rights and Respectful Relationships curriculum to address gender-based violence, along with the interconnected area of social and emotional wellbeing and resilience building.
This follows the lead researcher Associate Professor Helen Cahill’s development of similar resources for UN agencies that are used across the Asia-Pacific region.
The prevention education program for primary and secondary school teachers will be rolled out across all Victoria schools in 2017 following its launch by the Minister for Education James Merlino, the Minister for Families and Children Jenny Mikakos and family violence campaigner Rosie Batty.
The program includes lesson plans and activities that engage students in discussion about how to handle the issues they will confront in everyday life, such as how to cope with stress, respond to ‘sexting’ or forms of sexual harassment, and how to problem-solve and help-seek if friends are experiencing distress or disregarding the rights of others.
These lesson activities build students’ self-regulation and coping skills so that they can better respond to the demands of life, and engage critically with those gender norms which limit options for boys and girls as they grow to adulthood.
The curriculum is freely available via open access and draws on a wide range of research about education programs that foster social and emotional learning, and prevent gender-based violence.
VicHealth is further supporting this program through the development of a unique online learning program that supports teachers to implement the program. The online learning, also developed by University of Melbourne researchers, will be hosted by the Victorian Department of Education.
BACKED BY EVIDENCE
Studies show that social and emotional learning programs like the Resilience, Rights and Respectful Relationships curriculum, that have a clear and deliberate focus on positive relationships, incorporate a whole-of-school-approach, and implement strong teacher training strategies, have the potential to create positive change for a whole generation of young people.
They can improve academic outcomes and reduce rates of bullying, violence, depression and anxiety. With the inclusion of specific learning activities on gender and identity and positive gender relations, the program helps students develop the skills to relate respectfully to others, and the confidence to seek help if they experience or witness gender-based violence or sexual harassment.
WORKING TOGETHER FOR CHANGE
Changing cultural practices and norms that hide, excuse, justify or permit gender-based violence is no easy feat. Schools cannot achieve these changes alone, and community-wide cross-sectoral partnerships are needed. Nonetheless, school-based prevention programs are an important step in the right direction.
While respectful relationships has been on the Australian political agenda for some time, Victoria is clearly leading the way in rolling out the Resilience, Rights and Respectful Relationships program to support a mandatory primary and secondary school subject.
This initiative has the potential to be a catalyst for generational and cultural change, particularly as it is backed by the Victorian State Government’s firm commitment to end the vicious cycle of family violence.
If you, or someone you know, are in an abusive situation call 1800 RESPECT. If it’s an emergency, call 000. You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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