Educating kids to stop violence against women

Following the recent murder of Sarah Everard, violence against women and girls has again been thrust into the spotlight. Today’s children and teenagers need to be brought up with a firm belief in gender equality and non-violence, to enable a change in mindsets and cultural beliefs and so a safer society for all.

With constant on-line access, children are increasingly exposed to violence a beyond their own circles. Therefore, it is critical that parents, guardians, mentors and teachers begin educating children about non-violence, gender equality and violence against women and girls from an early age.

Young women are at the highest risk of experiencing abuse of any other age group. In the year ending March 2020, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that 4.9 million women had been victims of sexual assault in their lives, including 1.4 million who had been raped, or had faced attempted rape. This compares to 989,000 men who had experienced sexual assault, including 87,000 victims of rape or attempted rape. Sexual assault was most common among younger women, with about one in 10 people aged 16 to 24 having been a victim in the past year. A recent YouGov poll for UN Women found that seven out of 10 women had experienced some form of sexual harassment in public. This number was nearly nine out of 10 for younger women.  In total, 98.5% of the rapists were identified as men. In 2019, about 85% of people sentenced in court for violent crime were men. (ONS 2020).

Gender equality

In the recently closed consultation, Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy 2021 to 2024: call for evidence, Priti Patel stated “Crimes which disproportionately affect women and girls, such as sexual violence, domestic abuse, forced marriage and stalking have devastating consequences. They can have a profound and long-lasting impact on those directly affected as well as on communities and society as a whole. I believe passionately that we have a responsibility to help the victims and survivors, and I will do everything in my power to ensure their needs are at the centre of our approach”.  The consultation seeks evidence to inform a new Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy next year.

Whilst change is certainly needed at a societal level there are efforts we can make as individuals and in raising children. It is important to engage everyone’s understanding of gender inequality and equal relationships and to teach about empathy, rights and responsibilities.

These lessons need to begin from an early age when a child’s perception of the world is developing. Infants start to develop attitudes towards gender roles and gender equality based on interactions in their family homes, but these ideas are moulded and crystalised based on their experiences in the outside world.  From an early age, children begin to pick up ideas about what behaviours are ‘normal’ for boys and girls, what is expected of them based on their gender identity, and what language and actions are ‘acceptable’.

Here are some ideas on how to positively shape the behaviours and attitudes young children:

  • Avoid using gendered terms to praise.  Everyday phrases such as – ‘brave boy’ and ‘pretty girl’ can contribute to the assumption that boys shouldn’t express their emotions, and that a girl’s worth is tied to her appearance.
  • Do not distinguish between girls and boys’ toys.  Let the individual child decide if they want to dress up as a nurse, play with cars or dolls etc regardless of their gender. Encourage role play where boys can be nurses and teachers, and girls can be police officers, astronauts, fire fighters, engineers. Kick a ball around with a girl or a boy. Read books and stories that show women and men carrying out a range of roles.
  • Read books and show films with strong male and female role models .
  • Put a different spin on traditional stories, nursery rhymes and fairy tales and mix up the roles – for example, a prince in a tower who needs rescuing by a princess.
  • Encourage all children to express their emotions. The film ‘Inside Out’ is great at introducing children to emotions. Children need help to understand what they are feeling, and express these feelings in healthy, non-violent ways.  They are allowed to feel angry or sad, but need tools to be able to deal with these feelings constructively.
  • Lots of children enjoy physical play, chasing and tickling games, but they need to know that if they’ve had enough, ‘stop’ means stop and that they are in control of the game. Teach both boys and girls to understand that their body belongs to them and that they don’t have to give or receive hugs unless they want to.

If you come across unfairness or prejudice in everyday life then have honest conversations around gender equality with the children.

Are your children older? Please see our suggestions for educating older children.

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boys, educatingboys, Parenting, SarahEverard, VAW


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