Schools play a critical role in efforts to end gender-based violence

A recent study shows that early and consistent intervention in education settings is a crucial step to help end gender-based violence (GBV),


It’s a challenging topic to talk about – exposure to pornography, along with societal pressures to ‘be masculine’, might be affecting boys’ behaviours as they grow into adolescence.

But with the findings of a recent study showing that early and consistent intervention in education settings is a crucial step to help end the cycle of gender-based violence (GBV), it’s clear that schools can play a critical role in creating more positive outcomes.

The study, conducted by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), suggests that support for gender equality declines with age, with just 12.8 per cent of Year nine boys willing to intervene when in the presence of sexual harassment, compared to 20.2 per cent of Year seven boys surveyed.

ANROWS was established as an initiative of Australia’s first National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022 (National Plan) by the Commonwealth Government and all state and territory governments of Australia. Among other initiatives designed to end gender-based violence, it delivers respectful relationship education in secondary schools.

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Professor Helen Cahill from the University of Melbourne is chief investigator of the report, which analysed the Resilience, Rights and Respectful Relationships (RRRR) program intervention designed to promote respectful relationships (RR) as part of a holistic program of social and emotional learning (SEL). She told EducationDaily the study also found an alarming increase in unhealthy machismo among young men – behaviour often erring toward violence.

“Boys in our study spoke to how some male peers put pressure on others to conform to gender stereotypes,” she says.

“As one Year seven boy noted: ‘If they’re in your year level, and you tell someone about it [the sexual harassment], they’re most likely going to get mad at you and get a lot worse with it’.”

Peer pressure fear has an evolving impact

The fear of negative repercussions from peers seems to increase as boys age into Year nine.

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“Additionally, there may be increased normalisation and excusing of forms of sexual harassment of girls and homophobic teasing,” she says.

Professor Cahill told EducationDaily that there were multiple factors at play, including peer pressure, as well as exposure to pornography and even violent pornography.

“The data shows that boys who bully and engage in sexual harassment tend to befriend others who do this, too. Those who don’t endorse these views group with different friends but may still be influenced by the dominant, aggressive others on the broader peer network,” she says.

“A study with American grade 10 students who had been dating in the last year showed that boys exposed to violent pornography were two-three times more likely to report perpetration of sexual violence in their dating relationships than their non-exposed counterparts.”

Australian schools must unite to fight gender-based violence

Professor Cahill says Australia needs a unified approach to ending gender-based violence across all schools if it is to succeed.
The study’s findings showed that Respectful Relationships Education programs, based on Resilience Rights and Respectful Relationships (RRRR) programs, in secondary schools, have led to a decrease in students who said they sexually bullied other students (from 8.7 per cent to 5.9 per cent), and those who said they bullied others (from 11.8 per cent to 10.3 per cent).

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Professor Cahill says to end gender-based violence, implementing a consistent approach across all Australian schools is vital.

“At a broader prevention level, education programs, such as the one in this research, and others used internationally, show that good prevention education leads to reductions in sexual harassment, sexual assault, and homophobic harassment and improvements in social well-being and peer relationships,” Professor Cahill told EducationDaily.

“Studies show that well-designed and implemented school-based classroom interventions addressing violence prevention and respectful relationships can produce change in attitudes and behaviours. Providing explicit classroom programs to all students is a key part of a ‘whole school’ approach to preventing gender-based violence.”

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