Gender is Everyone’s Agenda

 I have copied my opening speech from this weeks ‘Gender is Everyone’s Agenda Conference – some more thought son this event to follow

The name of this conference was chosen very deliberately – gender is everyone’s agenda


This title emerged as we began exploring the challenges young people face and looking at the work being done by the range of agencies – many you will see today – just how much of their lives can be affected by gender inequality


We start of the games or the clothes boys or girls are expected to wear or are marketed at parents, to name calling bullying, insults, stereotypes, to threats and fear and abuse because they don’t conform to what is seen as normal behaviour, or they don’t do what is expected of girls when a boy asks you out or wants your picture, to feeling safe being out, to being targeted online, being exploited or abused witnessing and experiencing domestic violence or being attacked in the street..


This spectrum is where some of us sit – a lot of us found that we play a small part on this huge spectrum or behaviours or issues – but there is no one monopoly position on them – neither in policy or practice – all of these issues and many more are underpinned by gender inequality – they all adversely affect girls more than boys.  


Aggression and violence towards girls whether online, in school, in relationships is a complex phenomenon – not a new one either – the pressure to conform to norms or to be sexually active or to do what your friends tell you boys or girls are supposed to do – or are supposed to respond to if their girlfriend or boyfriend texts or speaks to another person are challenges we have been facing for years and at times we have tried to focus on each part of the spectrum of behaviours or looked at what the media does and then blamed that


When you look then at what each of us is doing on our small parts of the spectrum are doing – you ask – are they being consistent? Does it add up? It many places it does but many of us share the same frustrations at trying to get communities and schools and funders to look up and see the bigger picture.


We first became involved and were the catalyst for the partnership forming that brings you todays conference – based on our one area of influence – bullying


The term sexual bullying was being used more and more often and was appearing in policy and was being used to describe all manner of behaviours from homophobia to sexual assault – we felt this ran the risk of diluting serious behaviour – forcing someone, threatening to do something sexual they do not want to, isn’t bullying it abuse. Putting your hand u a girls skirt is not bullying – it is assault – these examples did and still do exist in policy in parts of the UK.

I as noticed a change when we were presenting evidence to the parliament on cyberbullying and after I spoke 5 other agencies spoke about exploitation and child abuse online – these are very very serious issues that need real policy and legislative focus – but we felt the term ‘cyberbullying’ was becoming an umbrella term for all negative and abusive behaviour online. I felt that if parliament is looking for evidence on exploitation and abuse online – we shouldn’t be in the room.


These two challenging issues converged and we decided it was time to talk to colleagues who were working on these very serious very relevant issues – we could learn from them about the areas they work in ad we could share what we did –so that we knew what children could expect from Childline, what Zero Tolerance was talking about in schools about relationships and violence and they knew what the anti-bullying messages were, what LGBT Youth Scotland say about domestic violence and violence that is routed in people not meeting gender norms – this vital and rich work being done runs the risk of being done in isolation


We wanted to get people together and look for where we can develop a consistent message – in policy and on practice. Every one of us was dealing with behaviour and violence migrating to the online world too but when we peel it all back and look at what we do – we are responding to gender inequality – pictures of girls being shared and commented on around school is misogyny 2014 – boys simply have new means at their disposal to perpetuate the myths about relationships, norms and how we talk about boys and how we talk about girls.


So ourselves, LGBT Youth Scotland, police Scotland, Local Authority colleagues, the Mentors for Violence Programme, NSPCC Scotland, Edinburgh University, Zero tolerance and Rape Crisis Scotland formed a partnership –


This group has formed in response to a shared concern and common interest in addressing gender-based inequalities and sexual violence.   It sets out a partnership approach to lead and influence gender-related policy and practice, as it relates to children and young people in Scotland.   It aims to challenge accepted behaviour, attitudes and relationships, with the purpose of reducing sexual violence amongst young people, acknowledging that the status quo is no longer good enough.


When each of us responds to reports or is delivering our area of work – we now know more about what our colleagues are doing and when we address gender issues – we have a broader and more informed position for some young people the link form say gender based bullying to gender based violence is clear for others less so but in understanding what each of us can do on that spectrum or for some continuum of aggression and violence we hope that we can develop more effective responses as we share our learning our understanding and listen to each other.


I am very proud to be standing here today opening this conference – I am very proud that it is not a conference about online risks, there are plenty of them happening, or a conference just on violence, or bullying – but one that hopefully gets straight to the point –  and that is how these are affected by gender inequality – I want us to get the conversation right – not always focussing on our own bits bit ask – how can we change attitudes and behaviours about gender


I suppose for me an example is when we look at what happens when sexting goes horribly wrong – a very important area – and we spend time on reflecting on social media sites, smart phones and the challenges they present – when the issue is actually what motivated the boy involved what told him what  he was doing was okay – not how did he did it or where – but why.


That is what I mean about getting the conversation right.


Today is our attempt to articulate the problem – to explore some of the key issues and to share these with you and to listen to what you have to say


We have avoided the temptation to present you with speakers all do and for you to sit there and appreciate – although I am sure you will appreciate the small number we have for you today – but we wanted it to be an active day – where the workshops and the networking are the focus – so please enjoy the variety on show – use the time at lunch and breaks to go round the various stalls and make connections.


Finally a quick thanks to Our Funders today from The Scottish Government – both The Learning  Directorate and the Equalities Unit  – thank you for this and we hope you can see that today has been money very well spent.


Brian Donnelly

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