By Jane Wairimu
Since the turn of the 21st century, we have been witnessing a growing number of civil society groups, corporate organizations and governments across the world work tirelessly to find new practical solutions to ending violence against women. It is evident that violence, which is often directed towards women and girls in both public and private spheres, is not ‘just a woman’s problem’, it is a global problem because it has serious, long-term effects on the victims, their families and communities. As we continue to support efforts and gains made by institutions in ending violence against women, we should also ask ourselves serious questions like whether more can and should be done to completely eradicate this type of violence. In particular, what role can schools play in ending violence against women? This is where Respectful Relationships Educational programs come in.
Respectful relationships education is a violence prevention program that focuses on children and young people. The program aims to develop healthy, respectful, non-violent relationships among adolescent girls and boys. The basis for this is that an early intervention program can have lasting effects as they grow older. Children and young people are at that stage in their lives where they are starting to form attitudes and opinions about the world around them. They are vulnerable to violence within their families and violence portrayed and even glorified in pop-culture. This exposure to violence can and often does lead to young people forming violence-supporting norms and attitudes which are transferred onto their peer and dating relationships.
Respectful relationships education, which is integrated into teaching and learning, addresses sexism, gender stereotypes bullying, and homophobia. It also looks at the negative effects of pornography which often portrays and glorifies unhealthy violent sexual relationships. Through respectful relationships education, boys and young men especially, learn about the long-term benefits of having mutually respectful, supportive relationships with girls and women. The idea here is to change the mindset of an entire generation who have been exposed to misguided ideas about masculinity and violence as a way of asserting their dominance.
While many countries are yet to adopt respectful relationship education in their educational systems, programs are already being rolled-out in Primary and Secondary schools across Australia and Canada as a preventative step to end violence against women. They appear to making positive gains.
We know that children and teens spend half of their lives in schools. Therefore it makes sense that schools should play a role in teaching students to challenge gender stereotypes and discrimination as well as attitudes that support violence. Schools should be a place where gender-equality and respectful relationships are promoted if we want to prevent violence against women. In order to make this a reality particularly across African nations, our schools need support from their surrounding communities and their governments in terms of resources, guidelines and best practices to ensure that respectful relationship education programs are effective in preventing violence against women. We all have our roles to play.