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We’re failing girls. Here’s what to do about it. 

Cover of Girls' Rights Are Human Rights! black and white photo of girls in a football kit sitting on a bench. Zero Tolerance logo in corner. Text reads, "By Kate Nevens and Ellie Hutchinson from the collective in collaboration with Zero Tolerance 2024"

Scotland should be a place where all children reach their potential. We can achieve this by respecting, fulfilling, and protecting human rights.  

But, our new research shows how we’re failing girls. In collaboration with the collective, we found girls’ human rights to safety, education, play, health, and participation are not being met. 

Human rights policy and practice often focus on either improving the world for women or for children. Policy makers fail to consider how age changes women’s needs or gender changes children’s. This means girls fall through the cracks in legislation. 

Girls Rights are Human Rights! summarises alarming evidence on the state of girls’ lives. 

Girls are sexually harassed in public, face misogyny online, and experience sexual and domestic violence. Police Scotland found girls under 12 are the most likely to experience sexual abuse and 12 – 18 year olds the most likely to experience rape. 

In schools, girls continue to experience sexual harassment and other forms of violence, preventing them from concentrating on learning. Teachers and senior management do not have the skills or resources to respond to their violence and support girls through it. 

All children should have the freedom to play, but gender stereotypes limit the activities girls can take part in. Sexual harassment and feeling unsafe also limit girls’ ability to enjoy the outdoors and public parks, whilst misogyny stops them enjoying online gaming. 

This violence and lack of freedom to play impacts girls’ health. Girls’ happiness has been in decline over the past decade (particularly for girls aged between 7 and 10). Reports find young women are three times as likely as young men to suffer from common mental health problems. But when girls seek healthcare they are often labelled as attention seeking. Girls also feel dismissed when accessing physical health care and struggle to access reproductive healthcare. 

Girls feel their opinions are dismissed and silenced. Policy makers often fail to adequately engage girls. 

There is a simple solution. With the government’s plan for Scottish human rights legislation, we have an opportunity to ensure girls thrive.  

Consider girls.  

When talking about human rights, policy makers and activists must ask how a policy or practice will impact girls.  

What do girls need? 

How do we respect and fulfil these needs? 

By asking these questions and writing legislation with girls in mind, we can create a Scotland where all children reach their potential and thrive. 

Listen to a discussion of the reports' findings:

Learn more by reading the:

Full report

Summary

Framework launched to tackle boys' violence against girls in schools

Today, the Scottish Government has launched the Gender Based Violence in Schools Framework, which provides guidance for primary and secondary schools on how to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls (VAWG). We co-chaired the working group which developed the Framework alongside Rape Crisis Scotland and the Scottish Government.  

“We’re proud to have been closely involved in the development of the Gender Based Violence in Schools Framework. The guidance is a vital step towards preventing and responding to boys' sexual harassment, rape, and abuse of girls, which is all too common.  

We now look to the Scottish Government to demonstrate its commitment to ending boys’ violence against girls by resourcing the guidance’s implementation so both teachers and children can focus on learning.”  

- Laura Tomson, Co-director Zero Tolerance   

With 70% of pupils in Scottish secondary schools experiencing sexual harassment, the majority of which goes unreported [2], the necessity of the framework cannot be overstated. Girls in Scotland do not feel safe at school, and this must change if their right to education is to be realised.  

“[Boys] say a lot of things, just really inappropriate then he looks at me and smiles and it makes me feel really weird.” 

- Primary girl [1] 

The Gender-Based Violence in Schools Framework is an excellent starting point for this work. However, as a non-statutory guidance document it will not alone solve the problem of violence and misogyny in schools. We make the following asks of the Scottish Government to ensure that this work makes the meaningful change girls in Scotland so desperately need: 

  1. Provide adequate resource for the implementation of this Framework to ensure it is used effectively by every school in Scotland.  

  1. Utilise the Gender Equality Taskforce on Education and Learning to progress work on addressing misogyny, creating gender equal cultures in Scottish schools, and therefore preventing VAWG. 

  1. Bring gender experts into all discussions on violence and poor behaviour in Scottish schools.  

“We will have space in the WORLD.” 

- Primary girl [1] 

 

References 

[1] Children's Parliament (2022). Gender Equality in Education and Learning: Theory of Change Model. https://www.childrensparliament.org.uk/gender-equality-education-learning/  

[2] Sweeting H, Blake C, Riddell J, Barrett S, Mitchell KR (2022) Sexual harassment in secondary school: Prevalence and ambiguities. A mixed methods study in Scottish schools. PLOS ONE 17(2): e0262248. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0262248  

NEWS: The 2023 Write to End Violence Against Women Awards

The 2023 Write to End Violence Against Women Awards

Zero Tolerance and the End Violence Against Women Coalition joined forces to host the annual 2023 Write to End Violence Against Women Awards. The event was held online on 28th November 2023, this ceremony brought together a wide range or organisations and individuals. 

The awards recognise the outstanding contributions of UK journalists and writers who, through their work, raise awareness and report on violence against women in a manner that is both sensitive and accurate. The media plays a crucial role in shaping societal attitudes, and responsible reporting can contribute significantly to preventing and ending violence and abuse.

The event, coinciding with the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, gathered regulators, journalists, editors, survivors, and experts in violence against women. The aim was to celebrate those who are making a difference and to inspire others to adopt responsible reporting practices.

Our brilliant panel of judges for the awards included Afua Hirsch, an award-winning writer, journalist, former barrister, professor, and filmmaker; Alice Gould, Head of Complaints at IPSO; Lexie Kirkconnell-Kawana, CEO of IMPRESS; and Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England & Wales. The expert panel emphasised the crucial role that journalists, editors, and regulators play in the movement to end violence against women and girls.

A highlight of the event was the moving speech by visual artist, writer, and VAWG campaigner Tashmia Owen, who shared her personal experience of gender-based violence and victim-blaming. Owen underscored how media reporting not only impacts survivors profoundly but also reinforces harmful myths and attitudes prevalent in society.

Tashmia Owen also addressed the issue of invisibilization of Black and minoritized women in reporting, highlighting the responsibility of journalists and editors to change a media landscape where their voices are systematically ignored. She pointed out the disproportionate lack of public attention given to violence against these women.

The ceremony also expressed gratitude to Rasheda Malcolm, CEO of the WILDE Foundation, and Jemima Olchawski, CEO of the Fawcett Society, for sharing their experiences of driving the first-ever upheld complaint to IPSO based on sexism.

The organisers extended their thanks to everyone who nominated articles for the awards, as well as the steering group for their support and shortlisting. Congratulations were offered to all the winners of the 2023 Write to End Violence Against Women Awards, highlighting their crucial role in shaping a more equal and responsible society.

You can watch the recording from our Awards Ceremony here: 

Our response to the Behaviour in Scottish Schools: Research Report 2023 and the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills' ministerial statement on behaviour in Scottish schools 29/11/23 

We’re pleased the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and the Behaviour in Scottish Schools: Research Report 2023 acknowledge misogyny as a key issue in our schools which they commit to tackling. This report affirms what other research has found: sexism, misogyny and gender-based violence are problems in schools in Scotland. We look forward to working with the Scottish Government on the announced National Action Plan to tackle this issue. 

The Gender-Based Violence in Schools Framework is an excellent starting point for this work; however - as a non-statutory guidance document it will not alone solve the problem of violence and misogyny in schools. We therefore look to the Action Plan to provide solutions to harmful masculinity, misogyny and violence against girls, and provide guidance on accountability and consequences for those causing harm which realise survivors’ rights. We are happy to support the Scottish Government by providing Zero Tolerance’s 30-years of expertise on preventing violence against women and girls as they develop this work. 

“Girls urgently need the Scottish Government to protect their right to safety and freedom from harm. Boy’s violence against girls is flourishing in schools and current approaches are not working. We’re eager to work with the government on this issue so both teachers and children can focus on learning.” — Laura Tomson, Co-director Zero Tolerance   

We have five asks of the Scottish Government: 

Include girls in the National Action Plan 

We are glad to hear the Cabinet Secretary, Jenny Gilruth, state that the National Action Plan will include pupils. We are disappointed that children and young people were excluded from the Behaviour in Scottish Schools research. Girls experience misogyny and violence from boys at school, which affects their ability to focus on learning. To end misogyny and boy’s violence in schools, we must listen to girls’ experiences to accurately understand the problem, and work with them directly on solutions. 

Tackle the root cause 

The Cabinet Secretary is correct in her assertion that neither the pandemic nor extremist misogynistic social media influencers are causes, but rather, exacerbate boys' violence and misogyny. It is crucial that work to eliminate these issues focuses on tackling the root cause of gender inequality and the gender stereotypes and unhealthy masculinities that underpin it.  

By focusing on improving gender equality in schools, we can tackle misogyny and other forms of violence, educational attainment, truancy, bullying, and absence. 

Provide detailed guidance on restorative approaches to boys’ violence against girls 

To be effective, the action plan must provide procedures for restorative approaches to boy’s violence against girls. We agree with the concerns raised by teachers in the research, which were echoed at the summit, questioning the effectiveness of restorative approaches due to a lack of support to ensure accountability is part of the process.  

We know these approaches can be effective, but without accountability and consequences, restorative approaches to boys’ violence against girls re-traumatises survivors, tells them they don’t matter, and effectively gives boys permission to repeat their behaviour. Restorative approaches need resources, expertise, and understanding of gendered power, which currently goes beyond what teachers can provide. Teachers urgently need guidance on this. 

Gather disaggregated data 

To monitor misogyny in schools and evaluate the effectiveness of the National Action Plan, it is vital that future research measures women teachers’ and girls’ experiences of violence and misogyny. The research must further disaggregate types of violence to help us understand its gendered element. For example, ‘verbal abuse’ and ‘physical violence’ must be broken down into categories such as misogyny, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. The Scottish Government must also gather equalities demographic data to understand how diverse communities of people with protected characteristics experience violence.  

Reconvene and Resource the Gender Equality Taskforce 

In addition to the national action plan, we ask the Scottish Government to reconvene and properly resource the Gender Equality Taskforce on Education and Learning, which is supposed to be chaired by the Cabinet Secretary. This has not met formally since August 2022 and has failed to make any significant progress since its inception in 2019. The issue of boys’ violence against girls and misogyny in schools makes it clear that this taskforce is needed. We hope to see the Taskforce’s work integrated with the Education Reform process, which creates a unique opportunity for transformational change in Scottish education, so that we can get it right for every child, including girls.  

New broadcast guidelines published to improve reporting on violence against women

front cover of our Media Guidelines on Violence Against Women, broadcast edition. Image on front shows woman upset and sitting on the floor next to fireplace. White roses are strewn across the floor.Today we release New broadcast media guidelines to help change attitudes to violence against women and girls by supporting journalists to cover stories of violence against women responsibly.

The broadcast guidelines build on our existing media guidelines for print journalism with input from Bauer Media to adapt them for broadcast.

The media can raise awareness and improve attitudes to violence against women, but it can also perpetuate myths and misconceptions about the violence and abuse women experience. Our guidelines provide best practice language as well as guidance on how to frame stories to condemn violence, ensure blame is placed on perpetrators, and survivors are protected.

We offer a range of resources to journalists as part of our work to end men’s violence against women. We host the Write to End Violence Against Women awards in partnership with the End Violence Against Women (EVAW) Coalition to recognise journalists who bring stories of gender inequality and violence against women and girls to light in a responsible, accurate, and sensitive way.

Rachel Adamson, Zero Tolerance’s Co-Director, said:

"The media has a vital role in ending men’s violence against women and girls. It is therefore hugely disappointing to continually see and hear harmful reporting which reinforces attitudes that lead to violence against women. We urgently need reporting that recognises and understands this violence and we need an end to coverage that sympathises with perpetrators and blames victims.

We publish these guidelines to support those journalists who wish to challenge men’s violence against women in our society and thank them for making a difference. We will keep working until all journalists adopt this practice.”

Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said:

“By raising awareness of abuse and its root causes, journalists have a hugely important role in shifting victim-blaming attitudes and beliefs that violence against women and girls is ‘normal’ or should be tolerated.

 

Despite violence against women remaining firmly on the agenda, we’re still seeing a worrying amount of misleading and harmful media narratives that trivialise and excuse men's violence against women, as well as racist tropes about which victims are seen as credible and deserving of our attention. We support these guidelines which will help put an end to the media’s role in perpetuating myths and misconceptions about victims and the violence women experience.”

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