THIS week, my daughter chose ‘Malala’s Magic Pencil’ by Malala Yousafzai from Salisbury Library. It tells Malala’s story in a way that, at three, she can start to understand.
Of course, we have already read it at least four times since it came home with us. While taken with the idea of a magic pencil that can change the world, my daughter is confused by the little girl who does not attend school but instead sorts rubbish into piles at the dump near Malala’s house. Malala’s father explains to her, “Because, Jani, in our country, not everyone sends their daughters to school.”
My almost-four year old cannot comprehend a world where she does not get to start school in September. I am relieved that we live in a society where gender inequality has been banished from the classroom. And yet, for me, this achievement is only the beginning.
Wednesday, March 8 is International Women’s Day: a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women – an annual call to action for accelerating women’s equality.
One area of equality I am particularly passionate about is the right to be able to go to school without fear of harassment or sexual abuse.
An Ofsted report published in June 2021 noted that ‘sexual harassment and online sexual abuse … incidents are so commonplace [in schools] that they see no point in reporting them’. And, according to End Violence Against Women (EVAW), a third of girls surveyed ‘do not feel safe from sexual harassment at school’, while 80% of girls think schools need to do more to support young people’s sex and relationships education, and to tackle sexual harassment.
‘Upskirting’, ‘nudes’, and ‘catcalling’ are the thin-end of the wedge, and it’s frighteningly easy to see the line between these common forms of abuse and the horrors committed by men like Wayne Couzens and David Carrick.
Terrifyingly for my daughter and her peers, this Conservative government is not linking the two together, never mind tackling abuse in our schools.
The Government needs to appreciate that early intervention, properly equipping our teachers with the ability to teach about consent, healthy relationships and recognising your own toxic behaviour, is of paramount importance to changing the tide on violence against women and girls.
We need to educate a generation on how to behave towards one another. It is not enough that our daughters have the privilege to go to school, unlike Malala’s cohort in Pakistan, they deserve to go to school safely, free from harassment.