Skip to content

Tag: Australian Human Rights Commission

Beyond Victimhood

On Sunday I woke to the news in the Telegraph that teenage girls were “riddled with fear and anxiety” and, overdosing on paracetamol.

Was this behaviour really impacting on an entire “generation” as the article claimed?

Screen shot 2015-02-19 at 9.07.36 AM

The reality is that although the data cited from the NSW Health Report on the Health of Children and Young people Report (2014) does show self-harming behaviours have increased from between the periods 1993-1994 and 2012-2013, even now, at its peak, hospitalisation rates for intentional self-harm for females aged 15-24 effects 0.46% of the 100,000 surveyed. Hardly a generational scourge.

Yet even one girl resorting to self-harming behaviours is a girl too many.

We should be concerned about the mental health of all young people. And if we are serious about concerns over self-harming behaviours in young people, then we should be taking to the streets in protest over the very high rates of self-harm reported in children currently in detention. The recent Australian Human Rights Commission Inquiry found from January 2013 to March 2014, 128 children aged between 12 and 17 engaged in actual self-harm and 171 threatened self-harm in detention.

But there’s something else we should be concerned about  too. And that’s the way in which we discuss young women. Because it is really not helpful.

If the times we live in are toxic for girls in many ways — think of the huge pressures on them to be not only thin and hot but to be smart and successful; to be everything, all at once —then equally toxic is the way in which the media and our society often chooses to engage with them.

When we are not reducing them all to damsels in distress, we are shaming them as viscous vamps, obsessed with taking “selfies”. There is a salacious pleasure taken in critiquing their mean girl cyber exchanges. In lamenting the length of their skirts. In hyper analysing their every mistake.

Even those who should have teen girls’ best interests at heart, the people who write parenting books, often describe teen girls in terms that are less than kind or generous of spirit. Walk down the parenting aisle of any bookstore and you’ll find plenty of covers depicting adolescent girls as sluttish or surly. As one girl said to me after a seminar, ‘If I came home and found my mum reading a book that presented girls in the way some of these books do, I’d be so hurt. We don’t read books entitled Parents are Pains in the Arses, do we?’

The reality is that whilst certainly girls do live in changing times and are learning to navigate and make sense of the always –on cyber world, the beauty, fashion and diet industries’ obsession with pushing a narrow ideal of what makes a woman loveable, and increased academic and workplace pressures, so too are we all. 

And you know what? We mustn’t loose sight of the fact that many girls are doing remarkably well despite all this.

Case in point? The incredible teen Sophie Delezio whose story also appeared in the Telegraph right under the expose on teen girls and self-harm in my news feed. Ms Delezio is one feisty female; after surviving both horrifc burns and later being run over by a car, she is now thriving in Yr 9 at a girls’ school and setting a goal to compete at the 2020 Paralympics as a rower.

More generally, here in Australia teen pregnancy, cigarette smoking, illicit drug use and alcohol drinking rates and all down. Meanwhile school retention and academic performance rates have significantly increased for girls.

It seems too we have a generation that are also not as self-obsessed as we’d like to paint them as being. 80% of Girl Guides over the age of 10 commit two or more hours each week to volunteering; almost double the amount of time contributed by adults.

Anecdotally, as an educator who works with thousands of teen girls every year across Australia I’ve observed that girls are doing remarkably well in a culture that often doesn’t seem to like them very much, or have much faith in their decision making capacity.

Stories about girls in crisis are valid and valuable for they alert us to the challenges they face. But make no mistake, for every media report of girls in crisis, there are statistics and stories aplenty of remarkable young women doing extraordinary things.

Let’s not be blinded by the numbers.

Let’s not be blinded either to the strength and resilience of girls.

10985263_10152734723183105_3083862884380357786_n

I shall be the opening keynote speaker at the Critical Agendas Girls and Education Conference in August, Melbourne. My talk will expand on these ideas: 

“Beyond Victimhood: Why girls need to reclaim their agency and how many young women already are.”

Sexting, cyber -bullying, dieting, drinking. Whilst it is vital to acknowledge the issues that some girls do struggle with, so often the dialogue veers towards labelling girls as victims or shaming them. How can we move towards empowering girls to respond resiliently when faced with life’s inevitable challenges and a culture that doesn’t seem to like them very much? How are some girls already speaking out and reclaiming their girlhood? 

What can schools do to further empower young women?

Hope to see you there! 

 

Pride

I am thrilled to announce that for the second year in a row, Enlighten Education has been announced as a Finalist for the incredibly prestigious Australian Human Rights Awards in the Business category (winners announced at the ceremony which will be held in Sydney, December 10).

I thought I would take the opportunity to share a few sections from our application with you as I am incredibly proud of the work my team are doing to improve outcomes for girls and to promote and advance human rights and human rights principles in the Australian community.

Enlighten Education is based on the belief that by entering into, and engaging with, the world of teenage girls, adults can encourage meaningful and constructive conversations about gender, identity, education, careers and girls’ futures.

A core component of the company’s work is to increase awareness among girls, their parents, teachers and the wider community of issues of injustice and inequality in Australia, especially relating to girls and women. We also encourage greater harmony between people of different race, sex, sexuality, age and ethnic origin within Australia, because acceptance of diversity is central to our message.

Enlighten Education empowers girls and educates the community about girls’ rights to:

  • freedom from sexual objectification and harassment
  • freedom from the threat of violence, intimidation and bullying
  • fairness and equity in educational opportunities
  • fairness and equity in career opportunities
  • healthy body image and self-esteem
  • the end of social and cultural pressures that place young women at greater risk of anorexia and bulimia nervosa, depression and anxiety, substance abuse and self-harm than other sectors of the community

Enlighten Education works to protect and promote girls’ rights and empower girls to: stand up for freedom of identity and sexuality; have good self-esteem and body image; and make the most of educational and career opportunities—free of discrimination based on their gender or appearance, and free of restrictive, sexualising and objectifying messages from the media, advertising and other cultural influences.

Enlighten Education encourages girls to:

  • be critical thinkers, form their own conclusions, know their own minds and find their own voice
  • decode media, marketing, advertising and popular culture messages that impose limiting gender stereotypes or have inappropriate sexualising messages
  • develop healthy body image, self-esteem and confidence
  • combat bullying and intimidation, and resolve conflict
  • set personal boundaries, deal with sexual harassment, and use the internet and mobile phones safely
  • understand the history and current status of women’s rights
  • become aware of the environmental, ethical and social impacts of their consumer choices
  • get involved in charities and volunteer work to benefit the community
Me working with some Primary School girls.

The remainder of our Application discusses our media outreach work (which includes my work on Channel 9’s Mornings program as well as the various Opinion pieces I write for both blogs and national newspapers), our online presence ( platforms include Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Twitter, and the free Iphone App we launched), the social activism work we have been involved in, and the charity work we do (for both CanTeen and The Mirabel Foundation) to help ensure equity in service delivery.

I know from attending the Award Ceremony last year that we shall be amongst giants on the day; the stories shared in 2011 were so incredibly inspiring and moving.

We feel like winners already.

 

Australian Human Rights Awards recognise Enlighten Education!

I’m so excited I can hardly type! Enlighten Education has just been named a Finalist in the Australian Human Rights Awards, in the Business category. The prestigious award is the Australian Human Rights Commission’s way of recognising a business with a proven track record in promoting and advancing human rights in the Australian community. You may read the full press release announcing this here: http://www.humanrights.gov.au/about/media/media_releases/2011/106_11.html

We are so proud to have been nominated. And we are buoyed by the knowledge that increasingly the wider community is recognising just how much girls truly matter. When she won the Human Rights Medal last year, Thérèse Rein said she felt the medal “encourages people that they are on the right track, that their efforts are worthwhile, that what they are doing matters to others, that they are in fact making a real difference”.

We know from the way girls light up in our workshops, and from the feedback we receive from parents and teachers, that we are making a difference — but it is brilliant to receive such public acknowledgment as being named a finalist in the business category of these awards.

Enlighten is passionate about empowering girls to stand up for their freedom of identity and sexuality, have good self-esteem and body image, and make the most of educational and career opportunities — free of discrimination based on their gender or appearance, and free of restrictive, sexualising and objectifying messages from the media, advertising and other cultural influences. We are working towards a future in which all girls are encouraged to be critical thinkers, form their own conclusions, know their own minds and find their own voice!

The winners of the Australian Human Rights Awards will be announced at a ceremony in Sydney on 9 December and we wish all the nominees the best of luck.

Facing Up to Sexual Harassment in Schools

Lately I’ve been concerned about a rise in sexual harassment in schools. Too many girls, and some female teachers, are being expected to turn the other cheek in the face of harassment from boys — whether it be verbal taunts, degrading comments on Facebook, explicit text messages or actual physical assault. Some schools are doing a brilliant job of dealing with this issue, but unfortunately there are many schools who are yet to grasp the seriousness of it.

We are on the brink of a disturbing new reality here. Boys are being exposed to a pornification of our culture — in music, on TV, in films and on the net — so it is perhaps little wonder that increasingly they feel that sex-based harassment is acceptable. It is up to schools and parents to teach them that it’s not. 

Too often the victims are left with the burden of trying to combat harassment. Recently a school told me that boys’ sexual comments and attitudes towards female teachers had become so problematic that they needed to take action. So they asked me if I could suggest ways to help their female staff become more resilient to the boys’ sex-based harassment. I applauded the fact that they wanted to take action on behalf of their female staff — but the onus should not have been on those women. Women and girls should never be taught to put up with sexual harassment. It is the boys who need to be taught that girls and women deserve respect, just as every human being deserves respect.

Another recent incident got me thinking about all this. A Year 9 girl stood up in class to get a textbook, when a boy lifted up her skirt for everyone to see and started taunting her. She began crying but managed to compose herself and sit down — and then another boy reached inside her blouse to try to rip her bra off.

The school’s response was to give the boys detention. Given that the same school gives detention for behaviour such as failing to do homework, this was an offensively weak punishment. For the girl, it was like being humiliated all over again. The boys received no counselling on why what they had done was wrong. And because the adults didn’t take it seriously, the boys didn’t either.

It was only when the girl’s incensed father pointed out to the school that what the boys did was actually an assault — a criminal offence — that the penny dropped. The school suspended the boys and called in their parents. Then the boys grasped the seriousness of what they had done, and they gave the girl a genuine apology. Like all kids, teen boys need adults to set and enforce boundaries.

When asked what the school’s sexual harassment policy was, the principal said, “Well, we don’t condone sexual harassment.” That is a laughable response — but actually, we shouldn’t scoff, because this principal is not alone. Plenty of schools don’t have policies. Perhaps they haven’t got around to it, they don’t think harassment is happening in their schools or they don’t grasp how damaging it is. Since this incident, the school is developing a sexual harassment policy. If something like that happens again, there will be guidelines to follow and everyone will understand that sexual harassment is never okay.

Implement a Sexual Harassment Policy at Your School

Formulating a policy for your school does not have to be a daunting task: the Australian Human Rights Commission has exceptional resources to help educators. Below is a summary of what a good sexual harassment policy contains according to the Commission. For more details and guidance, download the full information kit here. It also includes lesson plans, activity and resource sheets, and there’s a DVD available — all of which are very well written and sure to get meaningful discussions going in your classroom.

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, a good school sexual harassment policy includes:

  • A strong statement on the school’s attitude to sexual harassment
  • An outline of the school’s objectives regarding sexual harassment 
  • A plain English definition of sexual harassment 
  • A definition of what sexual harassment is not
  • A statement that sexual harassment is against the law
  • Possible consequences if the sexual harassment policy is breached
  • Options available for dealing with sexual harassment
  • Where to get help or advice.

The Human Rights Commission stresses that a written policy is not enough. Ask yourself:

  • Are people aware of the policy? Do they have a copy of it?
  • Is it provided to new staff and students?
  • Is it periodically reviewed? It is available in appropriate languages?
  • Are there training and awareness-related strategies associated with the policy?

School is of the front lines in the battle against sexual harassment. The home is another important one. So I am heartened that there are not only women but also men who are calling for adults to be good role models and to teach kids the importance of respecting all human beings — girls and boys, women and men. This poetic and inspiring call, by a man, for less objectification and more respect of women and girls moved me so much I cried:

Subscribe By Email

Get every new post delivered right to your inbox.

Please prove that you are not a robot.

Skip to toolbar