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RECENT news reports have highlighted what many of us in education had feared for some time — that over a third of girls have been sexually abused at school.
Evidence from the National Education Union and UK Feminista exposed the endemic problem at all levels of our education system.
Boys and men view sexist words and actions as reasonable and schools are passively presiding over a growing problem with poor training for staff and trainee teachers.
Clearly the problem is tragic and requires urgent action. The website Counting Dead Women reveals that approximately 150 women are killed by men in the UK every year. This is the tip of a very large iceberg.
A recent edition of BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions discussed online sexual abuse and the contributions from the panellists, which included businesswoman Gina Miller, were naive and unhelpful.
Miller, who has experienced online sexist abuse because of her calls for Parliament to discuss Brexit, and her fellow panellists, suggested more policing to deal with the problem. Worryingly, they missed essential points.
First, it is necessary in all capitalist societies for sexism to take place. Sexism divides working-class people. While we argue among ourselves, the super-rich avoid paying their taxes, private investors enter the NHS, Britain goes to war to destabilise the Middle East and inequality grows wider by the day.
Foodbanks multiply, the state funds yet another ridiculously expensive royal wedding and begging letters are sent to parents to provide essential equipment in schools.
Crucially, sexism ensures many girls do not become confident women who then occupy top positions in all areas of employment.
So government inaction on the issue of sexism in schools must be understood as a necessary tool to maintain the existing order of our society.
Second, the call for increased policing of the internet is a very small part of the solution. The answer is to build a culture of respect in all aspects of society, starting in nursery schools.
My work in nearly 100 early-years settings has revealed the need to deal with male arrogance and female subservience from the start of children’s lives.
Effective teacher training programmes including gender stereotyping must be monitored and evaluated with evidence showing a significant drop in sexist incidents with parents and carers involved at all levels.
This must be delivered alongside a reduction in teacher workload, with Ofsted operating in an advisory not judgemental capacity.
Policies on sexual equality should be mandatory in all schools, colleges and universities and delivered in partnership with trade unions as part of the British Values programme.
Such a programme should be echoed in annual training across all aspects of society. Social workers, police, judges, councillors, taxi drivers, sports coaches, health workers and more must be included — in fact all aspects of society. A socialist society should help boys to understand the values of respect and consent and help girls to be free to achieve their potential.
How do we pay for it? By ending austerity, ensuring the super-rich pay their taxes, cancelling Trident and refusing to bomb innocent people.
Pete Stevenson is a teacher and trainer who delivers gender equality programmes in schools and colleges. For more information on www.creativeworkout.co.uk.
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