In December 2017, the National Education Union launched a ground-breaking report about sexism in schools: “It’s Just Everywhere”. Since then we have seen fantastic support from our members who are talking and tweeting about the report and what we must do to tackle sexism in our schools.
Today marks International Women’s day and, we hope, a chance for schools to continue to build awareness about sexism and why it is harmful. Our report shows us why this is so important.
Over one third of girls in mixed sex schools said that they had personally experienced some form of sexual harassment at school. Nearly one quarter had been subjected to unwanted physical touching of a sexual nature. And one in three teachers said they had witnessed sexual harassment in their school on at least a weekly basis.
We know this type of behaviour does not exist in a vacuum but within a culture where ‘everyday’ sexist language and sexist stereotypes become normalised and unchallenged in schools. Many teachers told us they hear sexist language on a weekly basis - remarks which impose harmful, limiting gender stereotypes on children and young people. “You often hear boys being told to ‘man up’ or ‘not be such a girl’ because people think being called a girl is an insult,” one female student told us. Another student described how "guys are told not to cry because it makes them feminine.”
These stories present a snapshot of the everyday experiences that children and young people face at school. It shows us that boys’ and girls’ experiences are sadly very different and that gender still determines the opportunities, expectations and relationships that people have. All too often it is girls and young women who lose out because of the damaging impact sexism and sexual harassment has on their confidence and self-worth. But boys too are affected when only a narrow type of masculinity is promoted, and those boys who don’t conform are ostracised and bullied.
It is urgent for us all - teachers, school leaders, Governors and parents - to recognise and adopt language and behaviours which challenge sexist behaviours and gender stereotypes.
For International Women’s Day you can play a role too by doing these four simple things:
- Order free copies of the sexism in schools report and stickers from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Use staff meetings and inset days to build awareness about sexism and why it is harmful
- Use the sexism in schools resources on the NUT section website
- Tweet about the work your school is doing using the hashtag #sexisminschools
We know that schools can be at the forefront of tackling sexism through an approach that empowers teachers and students to call out and respond to sexism. We hope you will get involved with this work and you can find out more about the campaign by registering here.
By Ros McNeil, Head of Education and Equality for the National Education Union