5 reasons sex and relationships education can help end gender inequality
Last year, our research exposed that despite being one of the most developed countries on earth, too many girls in the UK are suffering harassment at school, don’t feel safe online, and are scared on the street. After interviewing over 100 girls across the country, it was clear, they told us mandatory age-appropriate sex and relationship education (SRE) in schools is needed. And right now, their voices are being listened to - a group of MPs is pushing to make age-appropriate SRE a requirement in all primary and secondary schools and they are supported by the United Nations and the Education Select Committee (to name a few). This is our opportunity to tackle gender inequality in the UK and give young people their right to sex and relationship education.
While most people will be familiar with what sex education is, it’s the relationships in SRE that may be unclear to many. So what is it and what can it achieve? Here are five reasons SRE can help to end gender inequality.
1. It’s more than just sex ed
Sex and relationships education involves learning about the emotional, social and physical aspects of growing up, relationships, sex, human sexuality and sexual health. Some aspects are taught in science, and others are taught as part of personal, social, health and economic education.
We’re living in an age where children are under a lot of pressure. Today, children are faced with negative messages about body image, struggling with issues such as online harassment and coping with an increase in the number of mental health needs. SRE can begin to address these issues by giving young people the tools to make informed decisions and have healthy relationships with themselves and their peers. It can also help to build confidence, self-efficacy, improve decision making among young people, and include non-judgmental information on sexual orientation helping to improve more positive attitudes towards LGBT.
2. Girls are being sexually harassed in UK schools
Our poll last year revealed one in five women (22 per cent) in the UK reported some experience of sexual touching, groping, flashing, sexual assault or rape while they were in or around school.
And it’s on the rise. Our research shows that reports of sexual offences on school premises have doubled in recent years, to an average of 10 each school day. Nearly two-thirds of alleged victims are girls, with 94 per cent of alleged perpetrators men or boys.
Sexual consent is not as simple as a yes or no and research shows that people do not understand what constitutes as rape. SRE tackles this by teaching young people about the importance of sexual consent and explores factors involved in giving consent such as peer pressure, being ill-informed, and drugs and alcohol.
3. Girls don’t feel safe online
It’s an issue that’s been getting a lot of attention in the last few years and it’s not surprising - sexting is becoming a norm among teenagers and not only do young people not understand the legal implications of sexting but they also don’t know how to protect themselves.
The girls in our report told us – they do not feel safe online, they feel pressured into sexting in school, and they’re worried about the impact of pornography on young people’s understanding of sex and relationships.
Our research also suggested that too frequently, measures designed to protect girls are ineffective or even have negative consequences for girls. Barring girls from digital spaces in the name of protection is a counter-productive solution that reinforces a sense of voicelessness and places the responsibility on a girl’s actions over those of a boy. Whereas education with both boys and girls can help young people understand the risks, how to overcome peer pressure, and address the wider issue of consent.
4. Girls are still facing discrimination
Whether it’s subtle or not so subtle and harmful stereotyping that restricts opportunities and economic empowerment, sexism, violence, or being denied a choice and a voice – girls today are being discriminated against.
As a girls’ rights organisation we know that to improve girls’ rights we can’t tackle the issue with girls alone. We need to engage boys and men, parents and teachers in order to tackle the damaging attitudes that restrict girls’ lives. And mandatory SRE should be the cornerstone of this effort.
5. Teenage pregnancy also comes with discrimination
Today, there is still a high rate of teenage pregnancies, especially among girls from a lower socio-economic background. Children from ethnic minorities, migrant children, children living in poverty and deprived areas, and children in care have less access to health services.
Age appropriate SRE will provide all young people with the knowledge they need to understand their bodies and the sexual reproductive system and protect themselves from early pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.