With violence against women and girls being one of the biggest and most entrenched human rights issues in the world, many anti-violence activists, educators and charities see the next generation as our best hope for bringing an end to gender-based violence. This is because if we can inculcate today’s children and teenagers with a firm belief in gender equality and non-violence, we would be able to begin gradually changing mindsets and cultural beliefs as the old cultural guards pass away and the next generation takes over.
The importance of actively educating children and teenagers about violence against women is also of paramount important because in today’s increasingly interconnected world where kids can get online with simple a tap on their smartphones, they are likely to become increasingly exposed to violence and misogyny beyond their own communities. Therefore, it is critical that parents, guardians, mentors and teachers to begin educating children about non-violence, gender equality and violence against women and girls as soon as possible.
In this “16 For 16” article, we present 16 suggestions and tips that adults can use for teaching children and teenagers about gender equality, non-violent behaviour and the issue of violence against women and girls.
Introduction by Regina Yau; Compiled and written by Rashad Brathwaite and Regina Yau; Edited by Carol Olson and Regina Yau.
VAW Education Tip #1 – Get YOURSELF Educated! The first step for parents and adults must is to become aware about the issue of violence against women and girls and how it impacts individuals, families and communities. There are lots of resources online, including The Pixel Project, which can provide basic information about violence against women. Once you know the basics, you will be better prepared to set up conversations about the issue, and identify and stop potentially violent and/or misogynistic behaviour displayed by your child.
VAW Education Tip #2 – Develop Open Lines of Communication. Enable children to feel comfortable coming to you with any question or issue. Make sure they know that you will listen to them and that their voice matters. Children who feel that they are taken seriously by a parent or mentor are less likely to run away from their own questions and more likely to listen to the advice passed down to them. By keeping yourself approachable, you are more likely to be able to guide them towards making the right decisions and taking the right actions when faced with issues and experiences like bullying and sexism which are related to and/or may lead to violence against women later on in life.
VAW Education Tip #3 – Books! Books! Books!. The books that children read in school and at home are easily accessible materials that can be used to teach important lessons. Use stories to teach values such as gender equality, kindness, non-violence, and respecting others. For younger children, select books that give examples of kind, non-violent behaviour while showing the consequences of violent behaviour like bullying. For older children and teenagers, go to the library or bookshop together to pick out books that promote healthy respectful behaviour as well as female characters who break the usual “princess” or “damsel in distress” mode. Think Katniss Everdeen, forget Bella Swan. If you are unable to find anything that matches what you want to teach or talk about, write your own!
VAW Education Tip #4 – Positive Reinforcement. Compliment and reward kids when they display positive, non-violent and non-sexist behaviour when solving problems and interacting with other people. In addition, simply pointing out and punishing violent or aggressive behaviour such as bullying will not help them understand why their behaviour is unacceptable. A better approach would be to show them why it is negative and to be ready to provide ready alternatives of positive behaviour that they can easily remember and use. Keeping calm and listening to the child or teenager while teaching them to handle may also help transform a potentially stressful disciplinary situation into a learning opportunity about non-violence and respect in relationships and towards women and girls.
VAW Education Tip #5 – Boundaries are good! Establishing boundaries for your children about what is or is not acceptable is part and parcel of teaching them about healthy problem solving, healthy relationships and non-violent conflict resolution. If you see your child engaging in violent behaviour, imposing a “time out” or other non-violent modes of discipline can help teach your child about peaceful means for resolving interpersonal problems and conflicts. Once they are able to recognise and respect boundaries, be it their own or other people’s, then they will be better able to understand the importance of consent in relationships and where to draw the line with aggressive or anti-social behaviour towards others.
VAW Education Tip #6 – It Takes A Village. Parents are seldom the only adult influencers in a child’s world which will eventually include some or all of the following adults: teachers, tutors, coaches, mentors, grandparents, aunts, uncles, older cousins, guardians. So don’t just focus on your particular relationship with your child or teenage. Remember the importance of building an active network of peers by making sure you keep communication lines open with the other adults in their world and work together with them to stand united in educating the kids about the importance of non-violence and of helping to stop violence against women.
VAW Education Tip #7 – Be A Good Sport! Many schools and other organisations focused on children and teenagers use sports as a way to help their charges channel their energies in a constructive way. Sports can help kids focus by giving them a goal to work towards while teaching team about team work and fair play. It is also a safety valve for letting off steam and aggression in a contained and controlled environment. Done right, sports can help children address and control aggressive tendencies, while learning good sportsmanship including fair play, accepting failure gracefully, and striving for success without hurting others.
VAW Education Tip #8 – Act It Out! Drama class or getting involved in plays can provide an outlet for children and teenagers to focus and learn about the issue of violence against women through storytelling and acting. If you are a parent and you know that there is a school production of a play that addresses issues related to violence against women and gender inequality, encourage your child or teenager to take part. If you are a drama teacher at a middle school or high school, make a conscious decision to select a play or musical that provide opportunities for your students to explore and talk about violence against women.
VAW Education Tip #9 – Share Stories. Share personal stories of difficult encounters and experiences to help drive home points you wish to make about violence against women and related topics such as bullying and sexism. Being minors with limited life experience, many children and teenagers are unable to connect the abstract idea of VAW with their own lives, and it is the role of the parents, mentor, teacher or coach to help them make the connection. You might not have experienced VAW in your life, but with 1 in 3 women worldwide experiencing gender-based violence in their lifetimes, whether it is domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, street harassment etc, chances are you may know someone who survived the violence who might be willing to talk to your child or students; Or you may have witnessed the violence yourself.
VAW Education Tip #10 – YouTube Is Your Friend! When used correctly, the internet can be a great resource for children and teenagers to learn about violence against women and its related issues. For example, here is a short film made specifically for children on the topic of domestic violence. So when you come across a video public service announcement or a particular clip on YouTube which can help kick off discussions about violence against women either at home or at school, use it. For teachers, mentors, coaches and other educators, it may also be particularly useful to create YouTube playlists of videos that you can use to kickstart the conversation with the children and teenagers in your class, team or counseling sessions.
VAW Education Tip #11 – Watch And Discuss. Apart from YouTube videos, another resource for educating kids about violence against women and non-violent behaviour could be watching and discussing a movie, a documentary or an episode of a TV show with domestic violence, rape or other forms of violence against women as a storyline or theme. Get the post-movie discussion and brainstorming going by asking questions that get the kids to think about the issue, why violence against women is wrong, and how they can help to stop the violence. As movies featuring violence against women can be too graphic for younger or more squeamish children, try documentaries such as “Half The Sky” that discuss solutions to violence against women.
VAW Education Tip #12 – Monitor Their Pop Culture Intake. In today’s celebrity-driven internet era, it is essential to use incidences in popular culture as teachable moments to address the issue of Violence Against Women with children and teenagers. The media and the celebrities they promote do not always provide positive role models for children. Therefore, it is the role of parents, guardians, mentors, teachers and coaches to address this issue. If you see the children under your care begin to internalise negative ideals due to the influence of media and celebrities, take action to sit down and engage them in conversations about what they have seen and to help them contextualise it in a healthy way. For example: When Chris Brown beat up Rihanna, it made the headlines and because both artistes have a huge fan base of teenagers and young adults, it was an incident that most kids would know about. So conversations about why domestic or dating violence is unacceptable could be built on discussing that piece of news.
VAW Education Tip #13 – Teachable Moments Are Gold. Be on alert to possible teachable moments that could come any time, anywhere. Teachable moments about violence against women can come in any shape or size. It could be your child coming home from school and telling you about how s/he heard one child call another a violently sexist term such as “bitch”. You can turn that into a teachable moment but transforming it into an opportunity to talk to him/her about how name-calling is not just wrong, but name calling using misogynistic terms is a form of violence against women.
VAW Education Tip #14 – Preparation Is Everything. Talk to your children, students or teenagers you mentor about dating and relationships before they enter into the dating world. Tell them about what they can expect from a healthy relationship including mutual respect, being accepted for who they are, and Let them know what abusive relationships could look like, including common red flag signs that indicate that they may be dating an abuser and/or are in an abusive relationship. By helping them set a healthy minimum standard for their relationships, you will be preparing them to identify relationships and potential life partners that are respectful, loving and non-violent.
VAW Education Tip #15 – Make Healthy Relationships for YOURSELF a Priority. Most people form their ideas about relationships from a very young age as they observe their parents’ relationship. For many people, their adult relationships and choices of life partner often echo their parents’ relationship. This is one of the ways in which domestic violence can trickle down over several generations through boys who grow up thinking that hitting a woman is normal and girls who grow up expecting to face violence as part of a ‘normal’ relationship. So one of the best ways to break – or never start – the cycle of abusive relationships for the next generation is to be mindful of your own relationships and how you interact with your life partner and other peers in your life.
VAW Education Tip #16 – Finally and Most Important of All… Be A Role Model. Role modelling is one of the most effective ways of influencing children and teenagers because they usually learn and internalise life lessons by patterning their own behaviour and beliefs after their parents, teachers, mentors and other influential adults in their lives. Your reaction to anger, frustration and conflict when interacting with other people may well become a behavioral template for your children or the children you teach/mentor/coach. So be self-aware of and thoughtful about your own conduct towards yourself and others and set yourself the same standards of non-violence, respect and acceptance that you wish to teach the children and teenagers in your life.