At the Sharan project we believe education to be key in fighting gender inequality and violence against women. A programme that teaches children about relationship between the sexes should be part of the national curriculum from an early age.
In the UK sex education is currently compulsory in state-run schools from the age of 11 with a right of parents to withdraw their children from the lessons if under 15. Unfortunately by that time the idea of gender-roles has already been formed in the children’s minds. This is why several organizations and politicians are advocating the introduction of compulsory sex education from the age of 7.
But there is another problem in our sex education system – most pupils report that the lessons are very much focused on the biological aspects of sexual reproduction with little or no emphasis on the social side of it. In other words, issues such as respect, equality and consent are not taught in school.
So how do our children learn to interact with the opposite sex? Partly from their families. Some of them are lucky enough to have parents who are in a healthy and loving relationship but at Sharan, we know too well that this is not always the case. And even if it is, parents are often reluctant to discuss gender issues with their children – it is simply not considered a priority.
The other channel where our children learn about gender and relationship is the media. There is no need to say how harmful this may be in shaping people’s opinions about gender. Images on the media often portray men as dominators and women as sex objects, normalising abusive behaviours towards women. And easy access to the Internet means that these harmful images are only a few clicks away.
Many campaigns, such as the “No More Page 3” initiative, are tackling the issues of harmful images in the media. These are absolutely vital for changing the way in which relationships between men and women are perceived in society but we believe they should go hand in hand with an education system that teaches the key values of equality and mutual respect.