A paper on the background theory for the project can be found here. For a powerpoint introduction to the project click here. A scoping study was carried out as part of the project. The full report and a summary is now available.
The pupils were all very excited to meet back together for a second pupil conference to share what they had been doing in school. There were two primary and two secondary schools represented. As a warm up and ice breaker that would introduce ideas around consent that were suitable for the primary school pupils, Chella chose a simplifed version of the handshake activity by Justin Hancock of Bish Training, which can be found in the Consent Issue of The Sex Educational Sex Education Forum’s e-magazine. The use of a handshake as a metaphor for the basics around negotiating good consent was helpful for pupils and staff, and some fun and complicated handshake/fistbump/wave routines were created and shared, all in the space of a few minutes! The activity was followed by a discussion about which greeting felt more comfortable and how we can give our consent as to whether or not we wish to shake hands with someone. Chella linked this to stroking pets and how we can tell when a cat doesn’t want to be stroked.
The pupils then shared some of the activities they had been doing in school. We were very impressed with the creativity of the pupils and we enjoyed listening to the songs they had created and a video of a boys’ dance competition.
These were the pupils who organised a boys’ dance competition and made up a rap.
They did an assembly and inspired other pupils to get involved. This is a poster that someone made. When the school were asked if they would like to have an annual boys’ dance competition and how many would enter, they were overwhelmed by the positive response.
We had a great song all about respecting one another. Below is the song and the lyrics:
You respect me,
I respect you,
Respecting each other is so cool when your with your best friends even people you don’t know.
This is what we all expect you’ve got to learn to show respect or you might end up sad and all alone.
So lets come together, stand together, play and work and rest together.
Nice with each other now and forever yeah, ohhh yeah.
Cause we can be who we were born to be, living and working in harmony.
Respecting each other, protecting each other.
We come together, stand together.
Boys and girls forever together as friends.
These pupils are part of a debating club. They created and performed a song about gender respect.
These are the words of their song:
Sometimes I wonder,
If there was no gender,
The Secondary Workshop
The workshops planned in the second part of the day were linked to needs pupils had expressed around the most important idea they wanted to address with their classmates. For the secondary pupils these focused on two key issues: identifying and challenging verbal and physical harassment, and sharing good etiquette that would support inclusion of trans and non-binary classmates.
Chella and Becky used teacher in role and forum theatre techniques to bring up the issue of gender pronoun etiquette, this time using a different metaphor. But first, Chella asked everyone to think about whether someone had ever offended them and then spent so long apologising that they made it all about them, and didn’t really even think about or learn from their own mistake. There were several nods of recognition. Pupils identified the feelings around this as guilt, embarrassment, shame, fear of looking ignorant in front of their friends. She then asked if anyone had been afraid to get things wrong or over-reacted after making a mistake – more nods of recognition.
They talked about asking for someone’s pronouns – their classmates at school who identify as non-binary or genderfluid have said they prefer to use the word ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’. We had a pupil time us having a quick exchange about it, and it took 12 seconds. We gave pupils a generous 15 seconds to have the same chat in pairs, and then again, swapping pairs to try it with someone else.
Then Chella changed the subject completely for our role play and asked them to imagine they were horses. She was given dubious looks:
Chella: Hi! Let’s all welcome our new friend Debra!
Becky: Actually my name isn’t Debra. It’s Zebra. I’m a zebra.
And then Chella went into paroxysms of guilt and melodramatic apologies all about getting it wrong for what felt like ages, until Zebra walked away to get a cup of tea.
They asked the group to change the scene and make it better for Zebra. Again, they only had 12 seconds.
They shared some of their scenes with us.
This was one version:
Chella: Hi! Let’s all welcome our new friend Debra!
Becky: Actually my name isn’t Debra. It’s Zebra. I’m a zebra.
Chella: Oh! I’m sorry – how rude of me. Everybody, this is Zebra!
They asked why it was important to take the focus off yourself and make a quick apology, and the pupils discussed that feeling like you were left out or in the minority was frustrating enough – to be ignored once and have someone correct their mistake and learn from it was helpful, but to be ignored twice while the person went into a whole giant insincere apology and then made the same mistake next time was disrespectful. The pupils talked about the intersection of race and gender and we also briefly talked about microaggressions, where a series of seemingly small instances of disrespectful treatment could add up throughout the school day and have a big impact on someone overall.
Carol and Boo took it from here, linking straight into a mind map session around types of harassment based on gender, gender identity and sexuality. Pupils discussed words heard around school and types of verbal and physical harassment witnessed or experienced, based on a survey that a group of the Gender Respect teacher researchers had given out earlier in the term. Name calling and gender-loaded words were queried, as were certain types of touching and contact, linking back to the consent starter activity and taking it further.
The activity ended with the group planning freeze frames and captions for image theatre, and coming up with some comebacks that could be safe and assertive responses to unwanted behaviour at school.
The session led straight into a quick-fire response round. Everyone was energised and ready to take on the world of Gender Respect, and we wanted to harness that!
How to get these ideas out quickly and creatively, using the pupils’ own ideas for text and artwork?
In the planning session last month, some of the teacher researchers reported that their pupils felt anxious about coming to the end of the school year and not having disseminated what they’d learned yet – that big plans were hard to achieve in one lunchtime a week, or when assemblies were quite busy already.
Chella thought about the project’s activism roots and then realised that the tools of art activism – murals and zines, could spread the word quickly. Murals could double as assembly presentation slides and adverts for schools with flat screens in public areas. Zines (also called fanzines) are tiny home-made magazines or booklets on any topic you like. They can be any size, but the simplest ones to make are 1-page mini zines. Here’s a good tutorial. Chella calls mini-zines ‘Paper Buzzfeed Listicles’ and bigger zines ‘paper Tumblr’ – they’re analogue social media, and they’re fun.
First Becky and Chella asked the pupils to choose their favourite topic they’d explored that day, and write top five things they wanted their classmates to know, then three reasons it was important to them, and come up with a doodle or emoji that would convey this issue. Becky showed her example using the Debra Zebra story to explain how to ask for pronouns and apologise for mistakes. This formed the six pages of the zine and the covers, and we got folding and cutting our zine templates while Boo, Caz, and Helen passed out snacks and juice for a working break – these kids were on a roll! They were so energised and empowered, and their work was really impressive – even over such a short amount of time! There were some good metaphors – one pupil used a conversation between a cartoon potato and a peeler to talk about consent, and another drew one of her favourite fairy tales, Rapunzel, but with a reclaimed ending. The group decided to call their zine collection, which they will complete, share and develop into presentations and murals, the SAGA Saga, after one pupil’s discovery of the phrase Sexuality and Gender Alliance in their online readings about equality, and after the Norse word for story.
The session concluded with Chella inviting pupils to begin a round of powerful final thoughts from each pupil, secondary teacher and volunteer sharing something starting with either ‘I hope…’, ‘I enjoyed…’ or ‘I feel…’ – and we had some lovely thoughts all the way back to the start of the project, and excitement about the ways pupils felt empowered to carry on the project’s aims now and in future. It was a fantastic afternoon, and we are looking forward to how their work carries on back at their schools!
The Primary Workshop
In the primary workshop we gave the pupils gender-based scenarios that we felt they might come across at school:
- You are working in a group with 2 girls and 2 boys. The boys keep taking the lead, making the decisions and dominating the conversation. What do you do?
- You are a girl and you enjoy playing games and creating a PowerPoint on the computer. One lunchtime, you are working on something and a boy comes over and takes over from you, saying he is just showing you how to do it. What do you do?
- You are a boy and your friend has just hit you on the arm and told you you’re no good at running. You begin to cry. Another friend comes over. What happens next?
We asked the pupils to create a drama showing the scenario and what they would do next. We had a really interesting discussion about their experiences of these situations and what they did.
Using the scenarios and discussions as stimuli, we asked the pupils to come up with a philosophical question. These were some of the questions generated:
- Why is blue seen as a boys’ colour and pink seen as a girls’ colour?
- Are boys and girls allowed to express their feelings equally?
- Why is it sometimes difficult for boys and girls to be friends?
- Do boys talk louder to make themselves heard?
- Why do people sometimes get teased for doing things that the other gender does?
The question they choose was: ‘Why is it sometimes difficult for boys and girls to be friends?’ The pupils said that sometimes they were teased for playing with someone of the opposite gender and people would say that they had a crush on them. They felt that it was unfair and that everyone should be able to play with who they wanted to, regardless of gender. They thought they would be more aware of it in school and would challenge people if they heard teasing.
Our second part of the workshop was to think about the role of the pupils next year as Gender Respect Ambassadors. We came up with a job description:
- To challenge gender inequality.
- To mediate arguments relating to gender.
- To run workshops to help people understand about gender respect.
- To create materials to raise awareness – posters, songs, PowerPoints.
- We will challenge others if we feel they are being disrespectful.
- All genders will be playing happily with one another.
- We will have equal participation.
- We will listen respectfully to each other.
- We will ensure our environment and materials reflect gender respect.
This is a list of recommended books put together from DECSY’s Resource Centre. I chose good quality books that related to gender equality in different ways. Most of the books challenge gender stereotyping in one way or another whether by offering alternative roles, jobs or behaviour. Some of the fiction books are chosen because of the strong central female character(s), many of them also reflect ethnic diversity or are set in countries of the global South. Biographies of famous women are included. It was harder to find books that portrayed alternative ways to be a boy or gender fluidity in general but these are included where they have been found. The recommended age groups are, of course approximate. There is a huge list of ‘girl-empowering’ books (and other media) on the American A Mighty Girl website although many of these are not available in the UK and have an obvious US bias. Please do get in touch if you have any other books to recommend.
Our national conference ‘Gender Respect – Youth Effect’ was a great opportunity to network with liked minded, passionate people who work with young people to give them a voice and help them to understand their right to respect, regardless of gender. The wealth of experience and the variety of professionals present enabled thought-provoking and stimulating discussions.
The day commenced with the inspirational and passionate feminist writer, Laura Bates. She is author of ‘Everyday Sexism’ and founder of ‘the everyday sexism project.’ The project promotes gender equality and is a place for people to record stories of sexism that occur on a daily basis. Laura spoke about how people can be complacent, and just accept that this is the way things are. She goes into schools and delivers talks to encourage people to speak out when they have been treated unfairly. Laura’s talk was shocking at times and contained statistics that were depressing, but she ended on a positive note, talking about how things are changing and people are feeling more able to speak out against inequality.
Feedback from participants was very positive. Project teacher Stephen said ‘I was pleased to part of the day that could potentially change the lives of so many that face inequality. Similar to Laura I would like people to challenge inappropriate actions and comments that are so offensive and hurtful to other people. It needs to start with the young and it was good to see a workshop on Early Years Education. While disappointed that very few men attended the morning session, it was pleasing to hear the message that men are important to addressing change and that they should see themselves as people who can reach out to other men who are responsible for unacceptable behaviour.’
The day continued with an overview of the Gender Respect project and the scoping study, followed by a choice of 4 workshops:
- Sexual Harassment and Masculinities – Interactive & practical ideas – how to facilitate discussions about these issues, encourage empathy, and enable safe, appropriate interventions.
- Challenging gender stereotypes – Practical ideas for lessons which develop critical and creative thinking and enable primary-aged pupils to make real choices in areas such as sport and careers.
- ‘Doing Gender’ – How young children develop ‘masculinities’ and ‘femininities’ and how we can provide an EYFS environment that promotes gender equality. This workshop will give participants an opportunity to discuss the theory around how children develop gender identities and reflect on practical approaches across the EYFS curriculum.
- Period Positive Schools – A fun, informative and interactive workshop sharing results results and resources from Chella’s research on how to include all ages and genders in menstruation education.
These workshops were well received by all and involved lots of thought-provoking discussions.
In the afternoon, Jo Sharpen, children and Young People’s Project Coordinator spoke about the Chilypep project ‘Against Violence and Abuse (AVA).’ This project works with young people who have been affected by domestic abuse. It was interesting to hear about how professionals can work with children and young people through an empowerment and participation model to shape services and provision. It was inspirational to hear from some of the young people involved in the project. Project teacher Stephen said ‘It was good to hear how the project in the afternoon had empowered so many once victims to be strong leaders of change.’
Participants chose from 3 workshops for the afternoon:
- Where do we go from here? – An opportunity to explore the YWAVE research findings and develop ideas and pledges from services/professionals/communities. A discussion around the legacy of the AVA project in Sheffield.
- In My Shoes – Interactive session exploring young people’s experiences and perspectives when engaging with multiple services and professionals in relation to domestic abuse.
- Participation and Empowerment – A look at models for working with young people. Opportunity to critically think about our practice with young people, examine the benefits and learn new strategies that can be incorporated into our work.
The day was a great opportunity for networking, encouraging one another and learning about the work of different organisations. Project teacher Stephen said ‘I would like the day to be seen as a growing platform of change across society and especially education. We need men and women to work together to address inequalities on all genders. We need to measure the success e.g. by more men working in early education, nursing, caring professions, politics and other STEM professions. We also need to measure a significant difference in the number of violent and abusive crimes against people within our communities.’
How did people describe the conference?
Gender Respect Pupil Conference: What happened next
The four school council members who attended the pupil conference were buzzing on the train home to Barnsley. I wasn’t sure if this was just a feel good factor or a sustained desire to bring about a change.
You can see what they planned to do on this film from the pupil conference:
By Thursday of the following week, they were knocking on the nursery door with a list that they had already completed. They explained they had started a presentation, made a poster for around school, were working on leaflets and now needed our Headteacher to allocate a whole school assembly.
Our Headteacher was delighted and taken aback by their passion. He quickly provided a date for an assembly for them to work towards. Dearne FM, the local radio station, were at school the next day spreading the news about how eager the children were to address Gender Respect.
Today they were very professional, confident and worked clearly in a team to share the message to the rest of school. I’m delighted that the ‘pupil voice’ is now discussing more than dressing up days and fundraising and that children are supporting their own community by voicing their feelings and desires.
It was interesting that after numerous days working together, the boys didn’t show for one of the lunchtime sessions. The girls said that the boys had needed a day to play out and that they had let them. The boys in effect had left the girls to write and design so they could play out. However, the boys still wanted a say when it came to decision making.
It generated a discussion and I reminded them that we are all in it together with a shared responsibility. You cannot opt out and yet still want a say. They understood the message and recognised that sacrificing playing out is part of teamwork. They agreed that after the assembly they would meet one lunchtime a week.
They still have the passion for Gender Respect and I’m looking forward to seeing the impact across the school.