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Gender equality education supporting children’s wellbeing – a T.I.G.E.R case study

10 October 2016 by
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Since 2013 T.I.G.E.R (Teaching Individuals Gender Equality and Respect) has been delivering workshops which offer a safe space for young people to address gender equality issues that are often ignored in formal education settings. We challenge the negative models of gender that can be presented in sources like internet porn and social media.

Facilitating change, empowerment and freedom

For me, children and young people are participants in an inherited gendered system, and we are in a position to empower them to grow beyond existing gendered constraints; to nurture a better experience and future for them. By highlighting the power dynamics at play in their world and challenging disempowering behaviours, we can support young people to fulfil their potential. To do this we can help identify limiting gender roles/stereotypes and implicit inequalities or behaviours which can undermine an individual’s personal power and wellbeing. We can invite people to think and see beyond what may be the accepted ‘norm’ and feel free to be their authentic selves.

Supporting mental health and wellbeing

Promoting wellbeing is intrinsic to the work T.I.G.E.R does. Sexism can limit the aspirations of a child, squandering their happiness. Let’s take Jemima as an example. If Jemima’s true desire is to have a job that is traditionally considered off limits to her gender, a bricklayer say, and she believes she must relinquish this dream before she has even left school, without even really understanding why, then her understanding of her prospects and potential is severely limited.

The work we do, to help build aspirations for all children and young people, is necessary because:

  • Boys and girls are not taking certain subjects at school and beyond because of gender stereotyping.
  • ‘Working hard’ is increasingly seen as ‘feminine’ with boys being put off by peer pressure and fear of compromising their masculinity (Telegraph, 2011).
  • Self-expression that does not conform to conventional gender stereotypes and therefore receives negative reactions can be anything from inhibiting to devastating for a young person forming their identity.
  • Restrictions on self-expression can be reinforced by peers, institutions, parents and the media.
  • Male stereotypes which encourage emotional suppression and social isolation might have serious implications for health.
  • Suicide is now the most common cause of death for men under 45 (Office of National Statistics, 2016; The Independent, 2016).

Sexist bullying is a pressing concern

Research findings have highlighted that that wellbeing can be damaged by sexist bullying. Sexist and sexual bullying is recognised as a significant problem in schools, even at primary level. In September last year, The Guardian reported that more than 5,500 alleged sex offences in UK schools were reported to the police in the past three years, including 600 rapes (5 Live Investigates, 2015). A Girl Guiding UK survey found that 59% of girls and young women reported experiences of sexual harassment at school or college (Girlguidng UK, 2014). Our workshop feedback reflects this stark reality. 59% of young people report that they have experienced or witnessed sexist bullying or harassment at school.

It seems that sexist and sexual bullying is often justified by gender stereotypes. In workshops, we repeatedly hear about the issue of ‘banter’ which appears to be the current vehicle for sexist/sexual bullying and reinforcement of stereotypes. The rules of banter are that you can say whatever you want, in the guise of a joke, and be unaccountable for its impact by accusing the target of sensitivity if they protest. Abuse that is excused by the gender system impacts on the wellbeing of young people and children. Disempowerment, inequality, limiting roles and abuse are not a recipe for self-worth and growth.

By empowering children and young people to recognise the implicit gender system that can disadvantage and limit them and then explore positive alternatives, wellbeing can be promoted. This is why work by organisations like T.I.G.E.R is essential to the wellbeing of young people and children.

What we do at T.I.G.E.R

Through workshops we invite attendees to think about the way gender may impact on them on a daily basis and how this could be improved in light of this awareness. We work with youth groups, secondary schools and are also now expanding our workshops into primary schools. We also offer training to teachers. Our workshops offer to enhance the work of education professionals in formal and informal learning environments.

As facilitators we learn a lot from young people who participate in our sessions. We are compassionate in our workshops to model respectful ways of relating and to elicit a safe environment for reflection on some very personal topics.

T.I.G.E.R is responding to the need for proactive learning and discussion around gender equality, which impact the wellbeing of young people.

Meeting an educational need

My school experience of gender, relationship and sex education was limited to biological diagrams and dull P.S.H.E lessons. The situation doesn’t seem to have changed based on the results of an online poll by The Everyday Sexism Project. 92% of respondents said that school sex and relationship education didn’t deal with issues around sexism such as consent or assault, and one fifth of these respondents were under 18 years old (T.I.G.E.R, 2015). There is now an opportunity, through the efforts of organisations like T.I.G.E.R, to improve on this.

Young people are benefitting from workshops like ours. Workshop feedback from September 2015-2016 showed that

  • 87.8% of all participants felt like they knew more about the subject in question as a result of the workshop, and a similar number would recommend it to friends.
  • 93.2% of young people enjoyed our workshops (with 56.2% strongly enjoyed them).
  • 95% of attendants believe gender inequality is an issue for young people.

Young people clearly want to talk about these issues and recognise their importance. They are passionate about these issues and acutely aware of how they are routinely disadvantaged by them. It seems that the space we create is important and much more is needed. Every time I witness young people discussing such important issues I am inspired and hopeful about the future.

References

2016, September 13th, “MPs seek better plan to fight school sexual harassment”, BBC News, Burns, J.

2016, September 10th, “Male suicide: It’s time to face the stark truth about a growing crisis”, The Independent, Hemmings, C.

2016, June 7th, “Teach children about sexism to stop ‘ticking timebomb’ of sexual bullying in schools”, The Guardian, Laville, S.

2015, September 6th, “Sexual Abuse in Schools”, 5 Live Investigates, BBC Radio 5 Live

2015, June 4th, “Why are we needed?”, Teaching Individuals Gender Equality and Respect (T.I.G.E.R), Bennett, N. online at: 

2015, September 5th, ‘Wave of school sex abuse by pupils reported’, The Guardian, Doward, J.

2011, October 21st, “Black school boys underachieving because ‘academic success is seen as gay’”, The Telegraph, Wardrop, M. 

Girlguiding UK. (2014). Girl’s attitudes survey. Girlguiding: London.

Office of National Statistics (ONS) (2016) “Suicides in the United Kingdom: 2014 registrations”, February 4th 2016, ONS.



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