Better sex education urgently needed to empower pupils, women’s groups say
CONCERNS FROM PUPILS OVER anti-abortion campaigning in schools strengthens the case for a national review of sex education teaching, according to feminist and women’s campaign groups.
CommonSpace spoke to several leading groups who represent and campaign on behalf of women and girls rights after pupils spoke out about the lack of inclusive education in several west of Scotland secondary schools.
An ex-pupil of St Luke’s High School, Barrhead, spoke out over their school – which runs a “pro-life” group – for sharing an anti-abortion campaign on twitter. A current pupil of St. Benedict’s High School, Linwood, then added to concerns over pupils attending an anti-abortion mass, as well highlighting concerns over faith and LGBT inclusion in the curriculum.
CommonSpace can also reveal that a third school, St Ninian’s High School in Giffnock (Renfrewshire) has been even more explicit in attaching its online presence to anti-abortion campaigning.
It’s religion department twitter account has posted dozens of anti-abortion messages, including one praising President Donald Trump for restricting funding for healthcare access to abortion. The department also said it sent “our prayers” to protests against abortion.
“With this in mind, school resources must not be used to campaign for legal restrictions to women’s healthcare”. Alys Mumford, Engender
Alys Mumford, a spokesperson for feminist campaign group Engender, told CommonSpace that school resources “must not be used to campaign for legal restrictions to women’s healthcare”.
“One in three women in Scotland will access abortion healthcare at some point in their life,” Mumford said. “A better balance must be struck between allowing faith schools to maintain their ethos while ensuring that pupils have accurate information about sex and relationships, including abortion. We share the concerns raised by pupils and ex-pupils, about the harmful stigma that may be propagated by the lack of LGBTI-inclusive education.
“We respect the right of Catholic schools to share the theology of the church on abortion with their pupils, in classes dedicated to religious instruction. We do share the view of the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child that the church’s position on abortion harms girls and women, and that it is also harmful to deny young people access to contraception and sexual and reproductive health and information.
“With this in mind, school resources must not be used to campaign for legal restrictions to women’s healthcare, whether through social media, preferential treatment of student societies, or any other means.
“Global evidence tells us that criminalising women for accessing abortion healthcare does not reduce the number of terminations, it just makes them more dangerous for women. We believe Scotland has an opportunity, with the devolution of abortion law, to ensure that all women are able to access abortion free from stigma.”
An anti-abortion mass event, organised by the bishop of Paisley John Keenan, was address by anti-abortion campaign chief executive John Deighan of SPUC – who has called for the criminalisation of abortion.
Rachel Adamson, co-director at Zero Tolerance, a charity working to tackle the causes of men’s violence against women, said that the anti-abortion incidents showed “that many schools have a long way to go” when it comes to inclusive education.
“Last year Zero Tolerance worked with Engender and a range of partners on ‘Our bodies, our choice: The case for a Scottish approach to abortion’,” Adamson explained. “The report sets out a number of issues around access to abortion in Scotland, and makes recommendations to the Scottish Government on developing a Scottish approach.
“Included within these recommendations is the need for schools to do more. School is a time when children and young adults are exposed to attitudes and new social structures. This makes it a huge opportunity for school leaders to instil a culture which addresses harmful gender stereotypes and increases understanding of consent, healthy relationships and reproductive rights.
“Unfortunately these incidents show that many schools have a long way to go before this culture is instilled at every level. Everyone in a school – teachers, pupils, management and parents – should be aware of their responsibilities and roles to tackle gender inequality and discrimination.”
Issues of sex education were raised on numerous occasions during the Young Women’s Movement survey speaking to young women about their experiences of education, and the need to “respect all view points”.
A spokesperson from YWCA Scotland was keen that those voices were heard in response to calls for changes to the curriculum approach: “We at the Young Women’s Movement believe in young women being able to make informed choices about all aspects of their lives.
“We believe that schools have a responsibility to arm young people with balanced information and create a safe environment for discussion and debate to flourish. In our recent report ‘The Status of Young Women in Scotland’ participants frequently discussed their experience of sex education, and the impact that this has had on their lives, with one interviewee commenting:
‘In uni or the last years of high school, consent workshops would have been quite useful… I have a couple of friends, one in particular who may or may not have been pressured into having a couple of abortions that she probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.
The interviewee added:
‘Workshops on indicators of what’s an abusive relationship, would be helpful for some. Or what you can or can’t expect, what your rights are as a woman, all that kind of thing, because it’s really quite sad the stories about what’s happened to my friends.’
Another interview commented:
‘Teachers stop you opening up because of the authority they have.’
“Almost every participant said they would find a neutral safe space valuable, often referencing the lack of opportunities to access support for particular issues including complex and profound questions of family, religious and cultural loyalty, contemporary identity, social exclusion and related gender bias.
“Young women are calling for space to talk frankly and openly about issues such as abortion and we believe that schools should do everything in their power to facilitate inclusive spaces that explore and respect all view points.”
The Time for Inclusive Education (Tie) Campaign have led efforts to make schools more inclusive of LGBT issues in their teaching and guidance.
Last year the sexual health team at North Lanarkshire council warned that inequalities in sexual health access “put the health outcomes of children and young people at risk”.
Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire Councils told CommonSpace that their authorities were determined to provide an inclusive education in the school system.
Picture courtesy of Cary Bass-Deschenes
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