Evidence points to schools being a key player in tackling gender-based violence, but teachers need support to tackle tough issues with confidence.
Gender-based violence affects young people in every country. The World Health Organisation estimates that one in three women experience physical or sexual violence, mostly perpetrated by an intimate partner.
Girls and women are most frequently targeted, but so too are people who identify as, or are perceived to be, same-sex attracted or gender non-conforming. This is particularly the case in school settings. An Australian university study found that 75 per cent of Australian LGBTI students experienced abuse or discrimination at school.
Rates of gender-based violence are greatest in countries where gender equity is low and acceptance of violence is high.
This shows that part of the challenge is to change cultural practices and norms that hide, excuse, justify or permit unequal treatment or violence on the basis of gender.
Schools are a key site for prevention activity. Children have a right to be educated within safe and inclusive school environments, and the evidence points to positive attitudinal and behavioural outcomes of programs designed to explicitly teach gender literacy and respectful relationships.
A new classroom program developed by a team of gender and education experts at the University of Melbourne’s Youth Research Centre is helping high school teachers in the Asia-Pacific region to teach gender literacy and respectful relationships.
Commissioned by a range of UN agencies in the Asia-Pacific region and released by UNESCO, Connect with Respect responds to the education sector’s needs.
Drawing on evidence
We developed Connect with Respect: Preventing Gender-based Violence in Schools so that it draws on a wide range of research about education programs that foster social and emotional learning and positive relationships, as well as those addressing violence prevention and the prevention of intimate partner violence.
If prevention education programs are sufficient in breadth and depth, taught with consistency and fidelity and are developmentally appropriate, they can lead to improvements in attitudes, knowledge and behaviour.
The key ingredients
Effective respectful relationships programs must start with an awareness of how culture and social practices work to shape gender norms by drawing on sociological theory.
They are also informed by educational theory about what is an effective learning activity.
Effective programs prompt critical thinking, foster rights-respecting attitudes, and provide collaborative learning activities that help students develop and practice the skills they need to create respectful relationships.
Informed by this evidence-base, the Connect with Respect program equips students to:
Understand and acknowledge the existence of gender norms: Students learn the key terms and concepts needed to enable conversation and critical thought.
Critique the influence of gender norms on behaviour and attitudes: Students investigate how gender norms shape identity, desires, practices and behaviour. They consider how some traditions, practices, beliefs, laws, rules and policies work to create or maintain gender inequity.
Foster critical thinking about gender and power relationships: Students consider the impact of unequal distribution of power and resources between people and discuss the link between inequalities and violence.
Include discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity: Students understand sexual diversity and gender diversity and affirm the right of all people to feel safe and be treated with respect regardless of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Enhance positive social attitudes: Students learn about human rights and that all people are of equal value regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, or other religious, cultural, economic or physical characteristics. They learn that gender inequity and violence is unacceptable, and that they have a role to play in violence prevention and in the fostering of respectful relationships.
Build motivation to take action: Students learn about the negative effects of violence, build empathy for those whose rights are violated, and examine how they can make a positive difference to others.
Develop skills and strategies: Students learn how and when to seek help in instances of gender-based violence. They practice skills in advocacy, self-care, peer support and assertive communication.
The delivery of respectful relationships education is on the political agenda in Australia.
On April 13, 2016, the Victorian State Government announced a $21.8 million investment to strengthen the delivery of respectful relationships education across Victorian schools. This important prevention initiative was called for in recommendation 189 by the Royal Commission into Family Violence.
This is a step in the right direction. With the program likely to be implemented through a whole-school-approach and with a strong teacher training strategy, this initiative has potential to be a catalyst for generational and cultural change.
Connect with Respect is freely available online and relevant to all high school teachers who want to address this issue.
If you, or someone you know, are in an abusive situation call 1800 RESPECT. If it’s an emergency, call Triple-0. You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Banner Image: William Fam/Flickr