This year’s 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women taking place currently in New York from March 4-15 is focusing on the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls with a particular focus on the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men.
As part of a series of UN parallel events taking place in various venues was a panel sponsored by the AAUW (American Association of University Women) highlighting the findings of their important study Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School. As Crossing the Line co-author Holly Kearl noted: “The AAUW was one of the first organizations to talk about sexual harassment in schools in 1993, and they continue to be a leading voice on the topic.”
Holly invited my high school feminism class students Josey Stuart and Noel Diggs to sit on the panel along with Emily Morenike Carpenter from Girls for Gender Equity; all students shared their insights on how to address sexual harassment in schools.
Josey mentioned that “to learn, you need to be in a safe environment, you need to feel like you’re able to express yourself, you can’t be focused on the constant fear of being harassed,” while Noel highlighted the importance of teaching students to shift their language away from misogynist messages such as “bagging” girls sexually and using words such as “gay” in negative contexts.
Emily noted that “instead of having faculty talk down to students and saying ‘this is what sexual harassment is,’ we can have students define and talk about sexual harassment in a way that gives them agency and supports their voice.”
Holly highlighted that “48% of students experienced sexual harassment during the 2010-11 school year, including more girls than boys, especially in the upper grades. 30% experienced cyber-harassment and most of them were also harassed in person. Nearly one in three students witnessed harassment happening, including more girls than boys.”
During my portion of the panel I highlighted:
- Collaborating with advocacy and activist organizations such as the Center for Anti-Violence Education to teach students self-defense; Girls for Gender Equity to address sexual harassment in schools via interactive workshops; Men Can Stop Rape to engage young men; and Stop Street Harassment to teach high school students methods to combat the issue via blogging and social media;
- Learning about intersectionality: As the AAUW report shows, the intersection of race, class, gender, and sexuality can cause some students to fare worse than others when they experience sexual harassment. In my own classroom, teaching students how to analyze various systems of oppression, including sexism, racism, and homophobia, leads students to build respect for each other and in the end, decreases incidents of gender-based violence in schools.
- Building consciousness for boys and working with them as allies. We cannot overlook the importance of bringing young men into the conversation in terms of helping them understand societal messages about masculinity and hyper-masculinity that leads to the kind of homophobia, transphobia, sexual harassment, and other gender-based violence we see in schools and on the streets.
- Creating trans-inclusive schools is key to creating a gender justice framework that takes into account the experiences of transgender students in schools. Professional development for teachers on preferred gender pronouns, gender inclusive bathrooms, and the social and emotional transitions that transgender youth go through creates safer school environments for all.
The executive summary of Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School.