WHERE does change start? It starts at the beginning of course and on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Thursday, November 25, change started at the schools.

At the initiation of the Respectful Relationships Implementation Team at the Leongatha Secondary College, Leongatha Primary School and Leongatha Specialist School precinct, every student, teacher and staff member didn’t only talk the talk, they walked the walk, quite literally.

According to two of the event’s organisers, Mitch Kay and Tanya Chalmers, both members of the 15-person Respectful Relationships Team, the whole school community took part, walking in groups around to each of the message stations set up on the lawn in front of the staff room to review the issues involved in gender-based violence and family-based violence.

“The ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence’ is one of the four main events we have each year,” said Tanya Chalmers, an acting assistant principal at the secondary college.

“We also have a ‘Bullying No Way’ day, an R.U.OK. day and an IDAHOBIT day – International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia and Transphobia day.”

But the remit of the Respectful Relationships Team, which includes a strong involvement by students, goes well beyond that to an involvement in all school policies and issues.

“We meet every second week and it’s a well-supported group within the education precinct and we also have a leadership role for the Lyrebird Cluster of schools as well,” said Tanya.

“There’s an opportunity to discuss all of the issues raised as you go around and at the end, everyone is encouraged to identify a gender-based stereotype that they are aware of or they feel has been placed on them, to write down and ‘bin it’!” said Mitch Kay, a member of the Respectful Relationships team.

* Does physical appearance determine my worth?

* It doesn’t pay to look too smart or intelligent.

* It looks weak when you ask for help when you have a problem.

* Only straight men and real men.

* I am responsible for men’s actions towards me.

* If needed I could use violence to get respect.

These were some of the stereotypes that participants were asked to consider, or to write down others they’d had experience with or noticed on their way around the information stations.

Gender-based stereotypes are a problem that assist in continuing the cycle of violence towards woman, but it not only women and girls who are at risk, according to Mitch.

“Women with a disability are twice as likely to experience gender-based violence and that’s also an issue we’re looking to address.”

The event is part of the ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence’ which has been taken up by many organisations, businesses and individuals in South Gippsland.

What’s the problem

According to the latest estimates, nearly 1 in 3 women aged 15 years and older, around the world have been subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner, non-partner or both, at least once in their lifetime, indicating that levels of violence against women and girls (VAWG) have remained largely unchanged over the last decade.

These numbers do not reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and would be even higher if they included the full continuum of violence that affect women and girls including sexual harassment, violence in digital contexts, harmful practices and sexual exploitation.

According to information released as part of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Campaign UNiTE by 2030 to End Violence against Women, COVID-19 has exacerbated all the risk factors for VAWG, including unemployment and poverty, and reinforced many of the root causes such as gender stereotypes and harmful social norms.

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual international campaign that kicks off on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until December 10, Human Rights Day.

It was started by activists at the inaugural Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991 and continues to be coordinated each year by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership.

It is used as an organizing strategy by individuals and organizations around the world to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.

In support of this civil society initiative, the United Nations Secretary-General’s UNiTE by 2030 to End Violence against Women campaign (UNiTE campaign) calls for global actions to increase awareness, galvanize advocacy efforts, and share knowledge and innovations.

The global theme for this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, is ‘Orange the world: End violence against women now!’

Among those taking part in the 16 Days of Activism initiative, challenging gender stereotypes at the Leongatha Secondary College and Primary School this week were acting assistant principal Tanya Chalmers, counsellor Kate Edwards, school nurse Renee Winterton and Respectful Relationships team member Mitch Kay.

 I’ve got a question? Leongatha Primary School students had more questions than answers when they considered the question of gender-based stereotypes last week.