Ending violence against women through education

By: Angela Lauman, Policy and Advocacy Manager at the YWCA of Canberra in Australia.

Angela oversees the organisation’s advocacy programmes and projects around violence against women and women’s leadership. Angela is currently studying law part-time, and in her spare time likes going to the beach and spending time with friends and family. 

October 11 was the International Day of the Girl. I participated by attending a breakfast in Adelaide, where I was honoured to listen to an amazingly strong and inspiring young woman, Khadija Gbla, tell her story. Khadija was born in Sierra Leone and arrived to Australia in 2001 as a refugee escaping war in her country. She is now a powerful advocate for African women in Australia, and for women generally, and was last year named South Australia’s Young Australian of the Year. She is also a YWCA of Adelaide member. Khadija spoke about how her life had been affected by violence in many ways, however her message was one of strength, hope and power. For her, violence will be overcome through education, which can change attitudes and provide hope and opportunities, and by women working together to support one another to make change in their homes, in their communities and in the world at large to bring about equality and end violence against women and girls.

Khadija’s message about the importance of education in eradicating violence is a powerful one, and one which resonates strongly with me. Australia is, thankfully, a country of peace and prosperity for most, but unfortunately violence against women remains a real problem in our community. One in three Australian women will experience violence in their lifetime and one in five women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. There has been no real change in these statistics over the years, showing that Australia has a long way to go to eradicating violence against women from our community.

Over the last few years, governments across Australia have begun to stand up and take action on the issue of violence in a more holistic way than ever before. We now have a national plan to reduce violence against women and their children, backed by both our federal government and governments in all the states and territories of Australia. This plan has placed prevention at its centre. This is a first for Australia, and something I see as a very important step that we should be proud of. As women and organisations committed to eradicating violence against women from our community, we must work to ensure this remains a focus, and that governments invest long term to ensure primary prevention campaigns and programmes have a chance to make a real impact. This is because changing attitudes takes time and effort but in my view is well worth it.

The YWCA of Canberra has long had a focus on primary violence prevention education for young people, and I am proud to now be a part of this work. In my current role as Policy and Advocacy manager, I have been responsible for developing a primary violence prevention programme for children ages 10-12 called Respect, Communicate, Choose. Thanks to the commitment, passion and creativity of colleagues at the YWCA of Canberra and the YWCA of Adelaide, supporters from within the Canberra community and with the support of our local and federal government, we are now delivering this programme in primary schools. The focus of Respect, Communicate, Choose is to give young people the skills and knowledge to have safe, respectful and equal relationships. As part of the programme we look at attitudes about gender and challenge students to deconstruct their views in this area and critically analyse the images and ideas about gender which we see in the community and the media. This will help them to continue to think critically about these things as they move into adolescence, and we hope to help them to build more equal relationships with both women and men. We also look at what respect means and give them opportunities to practice what a respectful relationship looks like. We hope these skills will help them continue to develop safe and respectful relationships now and in the future.

Our programme is only a short intervention and we are now thinking about how we can work with teachers, school leaders and parents to imbed these attitudes and skills as part of children’s everyday life at school and home. This is a big vision, but it is not impossible. Rather the possibilities are exciting, and highlight the power that education can have in making change to prevent violence in our community. I look forward to continuing to be a part of the YWCA of Canberra’s work in this area, and hope that in my lifetime we begin to see some real shift in the statistics around violence against women.