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New report: respectful relationships education can help prevent violence against women

May 6, 2021 / Our Watch media team

Young primary school students report increased personal wellbeing at school and are less likely to consider certain jobs and activities as ‘just for boys’ or ‘just for girls’ after participating in respectful relationships education, according to new Our Watch research, released today.

The Respectful Relationships Education in Primary Schools Pilot in Queensland and Victoria, which involved 18 schools with a focus on Year 1 and 2 students, shows promising results of how taking a whole-of-school approach to address gender-based violence can shape student attitudes and teacher confidence and knowledge.

Key findings in the report, Respectful Relationships Education to Prevent Gender-Based Violence, include:

  • A decrease in stereotypical attitudes among school students, making them less likely to see jobs or activities as strictly for men or women
  • Both boys and girls showed an interest in traditionally feminine jobs and activities
  • Staff demonstrated an increased understanding of gender inequality and the ways in which it impacts on school culture
  • Teacher feedback highlighting the importance of professional development in helping them deliver respectful relationships education that addresses the drivers of violence
  • Some schools showed staff increased their understanding of gender discrimination and sexual harassment
  • Strong commitment to respectful relationships education and its role in school readiness across the school community after the pilot.

The six-month pilot included classroom teaching and learning, professional development for staff, auditing of current school policies and processes, support for schools to engage parents in reinforcing messages of respect and equality, and the Our Watch’s respectful relationships education toolkit.

The data collected from the schools, in partnership with Deakin University, was used to measure changes in school practices, culture and structures.

The report also highlighted the need for respectful relationships education to be integrated long-term within a school community.

Our Watch CEO Patty Kinnersly said that as long as girls and women were seen as less equal than men and boys, disrespect and violence against women would continue.

“From birth, children are exposed to gender stereotypes that can set expectations around their behaviour and interests, such as the idea that only boys can play football or that girls love pink and play with dolls and unicorns,” Ms Kinnersly said.

“This can limit their ability to be who they want to be and to form equal and healthy relationships.”

She said evidence showed that rigid gender roles and stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity – the idea that women and men and girls and boys should act in certain ways or fulfil certain roles – were one of the drivers of violence against women.

“This new research shows some early promising signs that primary school is a critical time to engage children in age-appropriate educational content, so they have the skills to reject aggressive behaviours and discrimination and form attitudes, beliefs and behaviours based on equality and respect,” Ms Kinnersly said.

She said respectful relationships education not only aimed to build the skills of young Australians, but it worked with schools to ensure workplace culture, policies and practices were equitable and based on respect.

“We need to build on the work of this pilot and embed this work in primary and secondary schools throughout the country,” Ms Kinnersly said.

“We also need to ensure we are promoting gender equality and non-violence in not just our schools but all the places we spend our time, from our homes and workplaces to our sporting clubs.”

To coincide with the release of the report, Our Watch recently released an updated evidence paper drawing from international and national evidence on violence prevention in schools published since 2015, to ensure work on respectful relationships education is informed by the best available evidence.

There is also an updated policy brief that provides guidance to policy-makers on designing, implementing, coordinating and monitoring evidence-based approaches to respectful relationships education.

Further information about Our Watch’s work on respectful relationships education can be found here: education.ourwatch.org.au

Media contact

Shannon McKeogh, Senior Media and Communications Advisor (shannon.mckeogh@ourwatch.org.au or 0412 612 039)

*If you cover this story, or any story regarding violence against women and children, please include the following tagline:

“If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.”

About Our Watch

Our Watch is a national leader in Australia’s work to stop violence against women and their children before it starts. The organisation was created to drive nation-wide change in the structures, norms and practices that lead to violence against women and children.