There’s no denying that the last 18 months have been incredibly challenging. COVID-19 has affected us all, locking down cities, keeping us from loved ones and in some cases, taking away our jobs.
It has also led to devastating consequences for women and girls, exacerbating existing gender inequalities and rolling back progress.
Before the impacts of COVID-19, violence against women and girls had already reached pandemic proportions. Today, according to the latest global estimates, nearly one in three women aged 15 years and older have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence.
Since the outbreak, violence against women and girls – especially domestic violence – has only intensified. School closures and economic strains have left women and girls poorer, out of school and out of jobs, and more vulnerable to exploitation abuse and harassment. In some countries, calls to helplines have increased up to five times more. This is the Shadow Pandemic and it must be stopped.
When it comes to ending violence, we all have a role to play.
As parents, you have the important task of setting the next generation on the right path towards a safer, more equal future. In the lead up to the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November, here are six simple steps you can take to stop it before it starts and help end violence against women and girls, once and for all.
Children are inquisitive. If your kids are old enough to talk, I’m sure you’ve already been hit with a million questions. Some are easier to answer than others.
‘Why does this happen?’
‘How does this work?’
‘Where do babies come from?’
‘Why did he hit her?’
While your first instinct may be to brush it off or give a vague answer, it’s the difficult conversations about respect that can be key to developing healthy relationships and preventing gender-based violence. By encouraging open and honest conversations, you’re giving your kids the skills they need to begin any future relationships in a healthy, respectful way. You don’t have to wait for them to ask the questions either. Take advantage of everyday situations that may lead to a conversation. Let’s not allow silence to perpetuate a culture of violence.
Sooner or later, every young person will be faced with important decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. And while people may have different ideas of what they’re comfortable with, everyone has the right to have those boundaries respected.
Teaching children about the importance of consent is integral to their sexual education. Without consent, cases of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault increase. To eradicate violence against women, we must encourage a culture of consent in all situations.
While sexual consent may seem like a daunting topic to cover with young children, remember, early conversations don’t have to have anything to do with sex. Children can learn the basics of consent while exploring their personal boundaries and learning to respect others.
Practice modelling consent in your everyday life. Show your kids what it looks like to ask for consent by asking them for theirs. Stop as soon as they say they’ve had enough. Never force them to hug or kiss someone if they don’t want to.
Challenge Gender Roles And Stereotypes
Whether we like it or not, we all have unconscious gender biases. Society’s expectations about how men and women should dress, how they behave, and what jobs they do have been ingrained in us from an early age. In fact, researchers say that children start absorbing stereotypes by the age of three.
These stereotypes can have dangerous impacts. The idea that ‘boys don’t cry’ or ‘boys will be boys’ can lead to toxic views of masculinity that perpetuate violence against women and girls.
As parents, you can challenge the stereotypes that children are exposed to every day, whether in the media, on the street or at school. Let go of traditional gender roles, share the care at home and let your children know it is okay to be different. Encourage a culture of acceptance.
Choose Your Words Wisely
How many times has your child repeated something you said? Children are always listening, always learning and it’s important to remember that the words we use can shape the worldviews of our children. Victim-blaming beliefs are embedded in the way we talk. Some phrases are so deeply ingrained in our culture that it’s easy to forget or ignore the greater impact.
“She was asking for it”
“What was she wearing?”
“I know you want it”
Phrases that attempt to blur the lines around consent, place the blame on the victim, and excuse the actions of the perpetrator.
As parents, you can choose to leave behind language that objectifies women and normalises sexual harassment. Teach your children that words matter and use empowering language that advocates for enthusiastic consent.
Listen And Learn
From Malala Yousafzai advocating for girls education to Greta Thunberg campaigning for climate action, we’re seeing more and more examples of young people standing up for what they believe in. When we empower and educate the next generation about gender equality and women’s rights, we’re ensuring a better future for all of us.
The youth of today represent endless possibilities and enormous talent, and to truly harness that power, we must listen. Allow your children to speak up for what they believe in. Encourage their autonomy and listen to what they have to say about their experience of the world. You might be surprised by what they can teach you.
Join The 16 Days Of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence
Each year, governments, civil society, women’s organisations, young people and the entire UN system join forces for the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. The campaign runs from 25 November to 10 December and calls for global actions to increase awareness, galvanise advocacy efforts, and share knowledge and innovations.
Visit the UN Women Australia website to find out how you can get involved and show the world, and your kids, that you stand against violence against women and girls.
Violence against women and girls is a grave violation of human rights. If you have experienced abuse, please remember – it is not your fault, you are not alone and there is help available. 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) is a confidential information, counselling and support service available 24/7. In emergencies, please call 000.
Read: “Take action: 10 ways you can help end violence against women, even during a pandemic” at www.unwomen.org.au
Read: “When it comes to consent, there are no blurred lines” at www.unwomen.org.au
Visit: 1800 RESPECT: www.1800respect.org.au
Visit: www.respect.gov.au – the Australian Government’s ‘Stop It at the Start’ campaign – for information, resources and support services.