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UK Feminista strongly welcomes the recommendations published by the Women and Equalities Committee to tackle sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools.
Sexual harassment is an all too common experience for girls at school, yet until now there has been little concerted action from Government to confront it.
UK Feminista gave written and oral evidence to the inquiry, alongside a range of anti-violence organisations and education practitioners. Our proposals included:
- The Department for Education should ensure that tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence is a key priority and communicate this to all schools by issuing national guidance.
- During an inspection, Ofsted inspectors should request that information demonstrating how the school is effectively tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence is made available.
- Schools should be encouraged and supported to adopt a whole school approach to tackling sexism.
- Tackling sexism should be a core and compulsory element of Initial Teacher Training (ITT) courses.
We are delighted to see these proposals for tackling sexism in schools included in the inquiry report. The Women and Equalities Committee’s recommendations include:
- Ofsted and Government guidance on bullying should be amended immediately to include direct reference to sexual harassment and resources for how to deal with it.
- The Department for Education should develop, publish and publicise national guidance on adopting a whole school approach to reducing and preventing sexual harassment and sexual violence in all primary and secondary schools. This guidance should be published so schools can implement it in September 2017.
- The Government should create a statutory obligation in the forthcoming Education Bill for all schools, primary and secondary, to develop a whole school approach to preventing and tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence. We also recommend that the Department for Education remind all school Governors of their legal obligations to address sexual harassment and sexual violence in school. Guidance and support on how to achieve this most effectively should be provided to Governing Bodies.
- In order for Ofsted to successfully monitor schools’ progress in this area, it must update its training and guidance by September 2017 so all schools are inspected on how effectively they are preventing and dealing with sexual harassment and sexual violence.
- As part of its ongoing review of Initial Teacher Training, we recommend that the Government assess the most effective ways to ensure all school staff are well trained to deal with and prevent sexual harassment and sexual violence. The Government should report back to us with their findings and plan of action by March 2017.
It is crucial that Government and agencies act urgently to implement these recommendations.
UK Feminista welcomes the announcement by Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee that it is conducting an inquiry into sexual harassment and sexual violence in UK schools.
The inquiry’s terms of reference are:
- Establishing the scale of the problem.
- Understanding the impact of sexual harassment in schools.
- What can be done to reduce levels of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools?
- What can schools do to support students to deal better with the online elements of this problem.
The Committee is seeking the views of all stakeholders concerned. We particularly encourage young people, parents and teachers to share their views and experiences.
The deadline for submissions to the inquiry is 22nd May 2016. Further details here.
UK Feminista and the National Union of Teachers invite tenders for research into the state of sexism in UK schools.
This research project will provide evidence and insight into the prevalence of sexism in schools across the UK, with a focus on sexual harassment, sexist language and gender stereotyping. The key objectives of the project are:
- To design and implement research which measures the prevalence of sexism in UK schools.
- To capture the experiences of both young people and teachers.
- To identify the support needed to enable teachers and young people to challenge sexism in school.
- To help develop recommendations for practitioners and policy makers.
The total value of the contract is £20,000.
Deadline for submissions: 4pm on 9th March 2016
Contact details: email@example.com
To download the full Invitation to Tender click here.
If you have any questions or require further information, please contact Sophie Bennett, Co-Director of UK Feminista: firstname.lastname@example.org
With a new term starting at schools and universities, young feminists are getting ready to organise against sexism. We’ve been posting out our ‘freshers’ packs’ to student feminist groups, packed with guides on how to bring about change.
If you would like one of our feminist freshers’ packs please email email@example.com. You can also download campaign guides from our website.
We’ve also been busy arranging workshops in schools for young people to learn how to promote gender equality, as part of our Schools Against Sexism programme. The recent finding that over 5,500 reported sexual offences have been committed in schools across the UK in the last three years shows why work to tackle violence against girls, as well as tackle sexism more broadly, is so urgently needed.
To find out more about our work in schools, click here.
In July UK Feminista’s second Feminist Activist Mentoring course (or FAM) kicked off in Birmingham, bringing together people with big ideas for tackling sexism in their communities. Over four days they’ll be working with eachother to develop explore the root causes of gender equality and hone their plans. Rachel writes about her experience so far of taking part in FAM…
To connect with other feminists in Birmingham or the West Midlands and get involved in future planning and networking events email firstname.lastname@example.org
To get planning your own campaign for gender equality in your community check out online guide to Running and Effective Campaign.
When I saw that UK Feminista were having a Feminist Activist Mentoring course I was excited to apply. My aims were perhaps simple; to gain knowledge of how to set up a campaign, and of course, to meet like-minded people along the way. Delighted that I’d been accepted onto the course, as the first weekend grew near I began to get nervous – what if my campaign idea was impossible? What if I came over all shy and couldn’t talk to people?
I needn’t have worried. Set in the wonderful grounds of the Woodbrooke Study Centre, I received a warm welcome and met some fantastic people, as I’d hoped. The first thing that we did was getting to know each other a little better, which really set the tone for the weekend. It felt to me as much about community as learning about campaigns, which made for a warm and comfortable environment. We then collectively set a group agreement, which helped us operate and go from strangers to friends. Secondly we split into pairs and created ‘problem trees’. This enabled us to view our campaign in a clear way, considering the root causes of our chosen issue, and the many branches of effects that grew from this.
We then discussed values in campaigning, enjoying a very interesting discussion and presentation from Common Cause. This helped us to understand not only where our values came from and how important they are, but also how to talk to others about the values in our campaigns. The day ended on a positive note, as we ‘checked out’ together, each of us mentioning an exciting prospect about the weekend to the rest of the group.
The next day we were all refreshed and ready to learn more! After a quick team building exercise to get our energy renewed, we discussed power. Together, we looked at where power lies within the roots of our problem trees, and who holds that problem in place. Identifying the power behind the issue felt empowering in itself, as it created the space for each of us to consider how that power might be reclaimed.
The last thing that we considered over the weekend was identifying interventions. We talked about how for sustained change to take place four elements needed to take place, including changing institutions, building alternative systems, building our power and changing culture. This discussion was fascinating and at times overwhelming, as to see the expanse of work that must take place in order for your chosen issue to be overcome is a little like standing at the bottom of a mountain. As small groups we put this strategy to use, and considered a successful campaign that had already taken place. It was a relief to see that with hard work and a strong community, things can be changed.
I don’t think that I’m alone in feeling that the whole weekend was an incredible emotional boost. It was such a pleasure to meet a group of people that thought alike and were so supportive, and the whole weekend made me positive that change really is in the air. I’m excited for the next weekend, and am looking forward to working further on my campaign ideas and catching up with new friends.
Last Saturday, feminists from across Birmingham & the Black Country came together for the final session of UK Feminista’s first Feminist Activist Mentoring course.
Facilitated by a team of inspiring Regional Organisers, the five day course brought together passionate feminists with a hunger to tackle sexism in their communities- whether fighting against cuts to essential women’s services, tackling the limitations put on girls’ aspirations or challenging the stigma around feminism. Through the five sessions participants worked together with Regional Organisers to identify the root causes of the issues they care about, explore different ways of disrupting power, discover new tactics for making change and realise their own unique skills as change-makers.
There was input from experienced campaigners too: Inspirational Community Organiser Marcia Lewinson from Women Acting In Today’s Society offered her top tips for influencing decision-makers and building powerful movements, and Elena and Becky from Common Cause shared fascinating research into the importance of putting our values at the heart of our campaign tactics and communications as well as the ways we organise.
Below participants from the course share some of the tools they found useful for understanding how change happens and planning their own campaigns.
Nicola on the thinking about values when communicating our campaigns:
“Common Cause really caught my attention… The session briefly showed how values are what we hold, frames are how we order ideas and how values are communicated. The activities began by finding the common values that held all our issues together, then followed by looking at how feminism, equality and women are framed by others. The surprising thing, but I suppose upon further reflection shouldn’t be, was how often women and feminism are framed based upon image not content. So to sum up the first session lesson for me: the values you appeal to when framing a campaign will effect the behaviour of your target audience. Whichever values you appeal to will amplify those that surround it also. “
Saira on exploring the root causes of sexism:
“The next activity we did was ‘problem trees’. Sounds simple enough, the trunk of the tree is your problem (e.g. street harassment), the roots of the tree are your root causes of said problem, an example how it is engrained into society to see women as objects. The branches of the tree are how the problem impacts upon people. Not so simple anymore, the root causes and how the problem manifests itself begin to merge until they become inextricably interlinked. It made us realise that the causes are not always easy to identify and that’s how issues that affect women aren’t extinguished so easily.”
Lindsey on investigating how social change actually happens:
In the afternoon session we split into two groups to talk about a social change that had happened within our lifetimes. We looked at who the actors were, what the context was and what barriers and facilitators were involved. One group looked at the removal of images of violence against women from Facebook, the other at the legalisation of same-sex marriage. It was interesting to compare the difference in scope between one slow-building long term change and one that was localised to within a social network. There were many similarities, such as the importance of grassroots support, and the potential complications of profit; and how they both, through being achieved, allow other things to be achieved. For example, the Facebook case creates a precedent for other types of harmful content to be removed, or for other social networking sites to be targeted with a similar campaign.”
Saira on choosing your targets, and identifying tactics to influence them:
“For the first activity we paired off and discussed the progress of our current campaigns, using the power maps from last week. We put the actors involved into categories of support change, oppose change, more and power and less power and went on to discuss how we could work with (or as the case may be, ignore) those groups. It definitely was useful, as knowing 1) what the hell you’re doing and, 2) Who you are targets helps to solidify a plan in your head. In order to make the whole prospect of campaigning less daunting we took a successful campaign and unpicked it, marking its impact month by month, identifying the techniques used and key actors in the process. The campaign we studied was ‘Lose the Lad’s Mags’, very topical as it had just been announced Nuts magazine was shutting down (hooray!)…
> Take a look at photos from the course
> Want to get going on your own campaign? Take a look at our online guide to running an effective campaign
> Want to take part in the next FAM course in Birmingham? Email Fiona@ukfeminista.org.uk to register your interest.
Guest post by Alexandra Mills on what inspired her to start a feminist society in her school.
After reading about the experiences of a young feminist in an article entitled “What happened when I started a feminist society at school” I was inspired to do the same in my school. Although apprehensive at first, I knew that it was unlikely that I would receive the same level of abuse as the writer, so I had nothing to fear.
After meeting with the appropriate members of staff, I was told that although I could have total control over the society, a teacher needed to oversee it. I knew who to approach immediately and fortunately for The Pankhurst Society we now have two very supportive and enthusiastic teachers who have helped us every step of the way.
The Pankhurst Society meets weekly and discusses issues that affect us as young women in our society. I didn’t expect the girls who attended to necessarily call themselves feminists but I hoped to see a few people with an open mind, so initially the society was just an attempt to raise awareness in our school. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find keen feminists who fully support the movement.
Our first project was the ‘Who Needs Feminism?’ campaign, which we opened up to the whole school. We managed to receive some valuable contributions which have been posted on the school intranet for students and teachers to see. Secondly, The Pankhurst Society hosted a talk entitled “Modern Day Feminism” which was presented by Sophie from UK Feminista. What a great success! The talk was informative, captivating and inspiring. By clarifying what feminism really is and raising awareness of the issues we face as women and girls, the talk has sparked a hunger for equality among some of the students that was not previously there.
Finally, setting up a feminist society in my school has been one of my most rewarding ventures. Although it has been accompanied by a few negative responses, overall it has left me with no regrets. I would encourage others to also set up groups as every contribution to the feminist movement, no matter how humble, will aid its growth and hopefully, feminism will soon prevail!
Press release from UK Feminista and Object: For immediate release
Nuts magazine has announced it is to close as it’s been revealed that sales of the title plunged by a third after being pulled from Co-operative stores (1), following a successful campaign by feminist groups Object and UK Feminista calling on shops to ‘Lose the Lads’ Mags’ (2). The announcement comes just two months after Front magazine announced its closure, a fellow lads’ mag that was also pulled from the Co-operative (3).
The Lose the Lads’ Mags campaign was launched in May 2013 after lawyers revealed that shops selling lads’ mags could be sued by staff and customers under sex discrimination legislation (4). Since then thousands of people have signed petitions and attended protests calling on high street retailers to end the sale of lads’ mags. In September 2013 this resulted in lads’ mags being pulled from Co-operative stores and Tesco age-restricting their sale (5).
Since it was launched in 2004 Nuts magazine has come under repeated criticism from feminist groups for promoting sexism and fueling attitudes underpinning violence against women (6).
Sophie Bennett, Acting Director of UK Feminista, said:
“Nuts has spent ten years lining supermarket shelves with images portraying women as dehumanized sex objects. Yet we know that sexist, pornographic lads’ mags promote attitudes underpinning violence against women. They normalize the deeply harmful idea that it’s acceptable to treat women as a sum of body parts. But women have had enough of being dehumanised and objectifed. It was people-power that led to the Co-op ditching lads’ mags from its stores. The message is clear: sexist lads’ mags are well past their sell-by date.”
Beti Baraki, spokesperson for Object, said:
“Lads mags such as Nuts portray women as nothing but sex objects that exist to gratify male sexual fantasies, normalising and reinforcing the sexist belief that women’s primary contribution to society is as objects to be looked at. Lads mags normalises and legitimises attitudes of contempt for women which are associated with violence against women and girls. The placements of lads mags in everyday spaces, their influence over teenage boys and their normalisation of the dehumanisation of women is of grave concern considering we are living in a society in which one in three women will face male violence in her lifetime. We will continue campaigning until all everyday shops and retailers lose the lads mags and customers are no longer exposed to harmful images that objectify women.”
Notes to editors:
(2) UK Feminista supports women and men to take action for gender equality. Formed in 2010, the organisation has rapidly become one of the UK’s leading feminist organisations and a powerful mobilising force. www.ukfeminista.org.uk. Object is an award-winning human rights organisation that campaigns against the sexual objectification of women and girls in the media and popular culture. www.object.org.uk.
UK Feminista and Object are coordinating the Lose the Lads’ Mags campaign calling on retailers to stop stocking pornographic lads’ mags like Nuts and Zoo: www.losetheladsmags.org.uk
(6) The American Psychological Association (APA) report that viewing media which portrays women as sex objects leads people to become significantly more accepting of gender stereotyping, sexual harassment, interpersonal violence and rape myths: http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report.aspx
The Government-commissioned Sexualisation of Young People Review found: “<lads’ mags> promote an idea of male sexuality as based on power and aggression, depicting women as sex objects and including articles that feature strategies for manipulating women.”…“The evidence gathered in the review suggests a clear link between consumption of sexualised images, a tendency to view women as objects and the acceptance of aggressive attitudes and behaviour as the norm.” http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20100418065544/http:/homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/Sexualisation-of-young-people.html
Post by Rosie Mockett, UK Feminista Schools Support Co-ordinator
There’s a common theme running through a lot of the new, exciting feminist groups springing up around the country: they come together because they are having experiences of sexism within the school gates.
Many organisations have been saying for years that schools are not the safe haven they are meant to be, and that sexual bullying and harassment are regular features in a girls’ school experience. Over the summer, UK Feminista launched the ‘Schools Against Sexism’ Pledge and Petition to enable supporters to take action. So now it’s time for all the passionate pupils, teachers and activists to come together to stand up against sexism and make gender equality a priority.
“Since about Year 7 sexual harassment at schools is the norm for the majority of girls. As people grow up it is easy to see how it gets more harmful – it might start as a joke but progresses to serious harassment and can get really unpleasant. However I think the main problem is that it normalises sexualising women without their consent, meaning boys are more inclined to not take ‘no’ for an answer in sexual situations.” Patience, Schools Against Sexism Petition
The Schools Against Sexism Pledge is for head teachers to sign and this commits them to supporting girls and women who are experiencing sexism and violence, to teaching equality, consent and respect and to developing policy on gender equality and girls’ safety, and demonstrating this commitment publicly.
Students, parents, teachers and the general public can motivate head teachers by signing the petition to ask UK schools to tackle sexism, or they can take action in their own schools and raise the issue with their head teachers themselves.
“The Mary Alys Trust supports this important petition which should help schools take a step toward eradicating sexism not just in school but in society. If boys and girls are developing unhealthy attitudes whilst in school, reinforcing the status quo, sexism will prevail and violence against women will not diminish. Congratulations to all the school head teachers taking this action.” Lorraine, Schools Against Sexism Petition
Since the petition has gone live, we have received so many uplifting and emotional messages of support. Some lament the fact that this campaign has to exist, because it seems so obvious that girls should never have to worry about being groped during the school day. Most are thankful for the campaign, because sexism in schools is an issue that has gone largely unnoticed.
But it is the hard work of school feminist groups, individuals and national organisations which can make this a priority for schools across the UK. We know that we need feminism is schools, so let’s make it happen!
“Feminism needs to be in schools because it forms part of the language surrounding inequality. It helps people to see, conceive and articulate that an unequal world exists and, importantly, can be challenged. That feeling, that even in an imperfect world we can attempt to be part of something better, should be fundamental to any education system.” Sal, Schools Against Sexism Petition
“Feminism belongs in schools because school is one of the spaces where young people are meant to become the critical thinkers of the future. I don’t want a world where “bank” learning occurs, I want to see a world where critical consciousness-raising and intellectual thought and expression is nurtured and encouraged.” Kerry, Schools Against Sexism Petition
Why do you think we need feminism in schools?
Guest Post by Ananya Wilson-Bhattacharya, School Student
I’ve been noticing lately the way the school curriculum teaches girls to fulfill conventional roles. There seems to be a striking difference between some of the core subjects taught to girls in higher and lower ability streamed classes. This became noticeable at my own all-girls school, which always asserts its somewhat feminist ethos.
As my year of students were beginning to choose our GCSE subjects last year, we were told which subjects were compulsory for GCSE level and which were optional. The compulsory subjects included English, Maths, Science, and one foreign language. However, some of the girls in the lower ability streams were advised not to take a language from year 10 as they would find it too challenging. This would have been fair enough, if they had been offered an equally useful and interesting subject as an alternative; however, the only subject offered in place of a language was a course in Beauty and Make-Up. This both limits the opportunities of these girls in the future, as well as reinforces the social pressures on them to conform to ideals about beauty and feel that applying make-up, etc. is an important life skill. This is especially dangerous given the way that girls are already bombarded with messages from the media telling them their appearance is not good enough, and 1 in 3 girls considers having cosmetic surgery (1).
The Science course which students in the higher ability classes study consists of three subjects – Chemistry, Physics and Biology, all studied in equal depth. However, the lower ability classes’ course consists of little or no Physics – I guess it’s still often considered a ‘boys’ subject’ – and contains only half of the Higher Science course; the rest is replaced by a course on Child Development. Again, this limits their options and pushes them towards a caring profession. These jobs tend to be very low-paid and are very often done by women, and this is reinforced by teaching this course to a younger generation of girls.
These girls have just as many of their own talents as anyone else, even if they are not academic-based, which they are not being encouraged to develop by the curriculum at the moment.
Whilst some people may choose to study Child Development or Beauty, it seems extremely unfair that these gender-stereotyped subjects should be made compulsory for some girls, while students in higher streams are studying courses which will give them considerably more opportunities later. I am also interested to find out what alternative is on offer for boys if they struggle academically? Are their main options limited to domestic or beauty related work, or are there other subjects provided for them which they can gain more from?
It would be great if as many schools as possible sign the ‘Schools against Sexism’ pledge, and as part of teaching gender equality, schools should make sure the curriculum itself is not pushing girls into the roles they are expected to play in a sexist society.