White Ribbon Breaking the Silence in Schools

White Ribbon Breaking the Silence in Schools


One woman is killed every week in Australia by an intimate partner 73 percent of intimate partner homicides are women Personal safety surveys show us that 1 in 4 kids experience violence in the home firsthand And the other 3 out of 4 kids, they’re seeing it in the video games they play in the movies they watch, in the porn they consume online as they get older You can’t have the statistics we know about without recognizing there are many people within the school community that are going to be touched one way or another. When a person gets teased they feel a little bit sad and might get their anger out. The bullies don’t seem to really care about it. They think that because they have their own problems at home that they should take it out on other kids. As an ex-school teacher I’ve witnessed children on the playground, children in the classroom, children in social settings expressing violence towards each other. We need to work with them to change what they see as that normal violent behaviour into attitudes and behaviours of tolerance, acceptance, and respect. It’s really important that we engage young people before their attitudes towards gender and relations and violence are set in stone. Boys can exercise power and authority very early on and we need to role model that that’s inappropriate. We need to break the silence. The Breaking the Silence program was developed by academic research in Victoria piloted in the Sydney schools region, and supported by the director of the region, Dr Phil Lambert. During those early years it was funded through Suzanne Grae corporate sponsorship and it’s now being rolled out across New South Wales, supported by the Director-General of Education and private philanthropic funding. As Director-General of Education and Communities I’m incredibly proud about the Breaking the Silence program. 2009 when the Sydney region joined with White Ribbon Australia to form up the program it has been a wonderful innovation in our school environment. The schools clearly are an important place recognized by the broader society of making a difference for our young people. Not only in terms of academic outcomes but also social outcomes. Each school and school community the leadership of the school contextualizes the program relevant to that particular school. It might be that they embed it in drama classes, may embed it alongside their respectful relationship or social competencies program. About 75 to 85 percent of our kids are here under the talented sports program the largest sport we have is rugby league and we started because of some of the disrespectful behaviours of some of the sports boys in the school towards the women. First evidence we had were disrespectful comments made of a sexist nature with girls walking through the program And the other thing that we found was a problem was the girls were accepting of these comments they didn’t like them, but they just saw it as the way it was and so they didn’t make much of a fuss. When you look at particular schools in particular contexts, such as a sporting high school some of those students in the elite teams are our next sporting heroes in the broader sense they have a role and responsibility attached to that White Ribbon gives them the skills and the tools to play out that role in a very responsible way. The whole program we have here is hands-on, practical and we talk about what it looks like, what a respectful school looks like how we should treat each other boys and girls have a chance to say what they expect and it’s very powerful for boys to hear from girls what they expect I think we have those strategies implemented and just that everybody knows the values of this school This school’s more of a family now. Before it used to be like this is that group, that’s that group. Now it’s just everyone’s together. There’s nothing separating anyone anymore. The main countable change is the respect that is being shown. It is now no longer acceptable out on the playground to say the things that we used to hear. Since the program’s been running we have seen as many different responses to the issue of violence as there are schools themselves, something that we in the office could never have envisioned. We’re able to review our policies, our anti-bullying policies, our student welfare policy the key learning areas, and the teaching and learning. Students are able to express themselves on the concept of respect and violence and what it means to them. Teachers are involved, students are involved, parents are involved and it’s all driven by a principal so the notion of respect and nonviolence is coming at those kids from many angles If you were to sit down with a group of students from our school they all know that this is about boys and men not hurting girls and women they know that we don’t accept domestic violence. If schools don’t get involved then we are sweeping the White Ribbon content under the carpet Most domestic violence is there and it’s a primary prevention model. It’s important that we address that. It is our core business as educators to ensure that we’re focused on student well-being and indeed a commitment to valuing respectful relationships. It really takes knowing individual kids and give them lessons but it takes communities and reinforces those lessons with the behaviour and the attitude of the community. I was about to explain to the new committee what White Ribbon was all about and the President said “Ray, if you don’t mind, I’d like to explain that.” At that point I felt like we are really getting the message through if somebody else wanted to take that away from me. We are all of those people that are called the silent majority and we’re not going to be silent about this anymore The Breaking the Silence schools program is an excellent tool and strategy to work alongside all the other elements of school’s work in the social change space. It provides them with tools and strategies that enable them to educate young people to be much more responsible and to break the cycle of violence in Australia. If in 20 years time we have a generation of boys leaving school who intuitively understand that violence is wrong in every situation, and who always reach for a nonviolent solution to their problem and a generation of girls leaving school who know that they should expect respect in every circumstance of their lives then that will be the first generation of its kind not only in Australia, but at any time, anywhere, in the history of humanity It is an exciting thing to be a part of that change.

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