What’s possible and what’s not
30 July 2021
Earlier this year, a small but significant feminist movement emerged in Christchurch. On March 25, a group of girls from Christchurch Girls High School (CGHS) began a march toward their brother school, Christchurch Boys High School, (CBHS), for nothing like sisterly reasons. They were challenging the growing incidence of sexual harassment and assault experienced by fellow school girls and friends, and they were in no doubt which school the culprits went to. During their lunch hour, about one hundred female students began the walk to CBHS.
CGHS and CBHS are both decile 10, and both in Fendalton (1). Given the level of compliance and conformity taught in these two schools, and the desire of adolescents, and girls in particular, not to stand out, the number who joined the walk is significant.
Unlike the hundreds of farmers and their lobby groups driving tractors through streets that are normally barred to them due to speed limits and disruptions, no such allowances were made for these young women and their message. They were turned back. They never reached their destination, which must have left them frustrated and angry.
A movement born out of the invisibility of female suffering at the hand of males was thwarted again by rules and protocols made by and for men.
The protest had started a few days earlier when graffiti appeared on the footpath and walls outside CBHS, including references to homophobia, feminism, and sexual harassment.
The stoush moved online and the young men started posting under hashtags, proving that our young men do indeed learn from their elders: “This account is referring to the allegations with no proof. No one cares about your false allegations”, “feminismiscancer”, and “mensrightsactivist”.
The initial messages to the young women were clear – follow the rules, speak up but only in the way those in authority condone, and find a better way. In other words, be nice.
The young women’s frustration with being abused, being unable to speak up, and seeing no consequences for male behaviour was clear from the signs, which read: “Our bodies are not your conversation starters”, “My assaulter got a second chance”, and “No more excuses, dismantle rape culture.”
The young women carried banners with crucial messages for everyone, but what their Principal was concerned with was ‘unfairness’ to the young men. As she told them – and every female reading about the matter – “It was really important to encourage students to speak up about that, and it’s not helpful to single out individual boys’ schools. It’s important to address global, systemic issues.”
Meanwhile, CBHS principal, Nic Hall, said the school actively encourages discussions around diversity and inclusion in the community, and claimed, “The school has been working incredibly hard with our students and community to talk about, take action on and lead on the issues of female safety …Senior boys, in particular, have shown strong leadership in this area and we will continue to support efforts to in calling attention to, and stopping behaviours and actions that work against diversity and inclusion.”
It seems unlikely that one assault or experience of harassment would prompt the young womens’ actions. In all probability it was many stories of pain, trauma, invisibility, adaptation to trauma, and the lack of consequences for male behaviour which culminated in the call to action.
Importantly, the protest was covered by the media and an opinion piece appeared in Stuff.
Two months later, the results of a CGHS schoolwide survey which the Principal had commissioned in response to the protest, were published. Its results found:
- Fifty-nine per cent of survey respondents said they had been harassed, a quarter of them more than ten times
- Twenty students described being raped by individuals or groups
- Most respondents did not report the abuse, and only ten per cent received any help or support.
Sadly, none of this is news. Studies have been done before. Auckland University summarised some historical numbers here :
One in six New Zealand women experience sexual violence from an intimate partner during their lifetime. This rate has not changed since 1938. [The] research also found that rates of child sexual abuse and non-partner sexual assault seem to have declined slightly but are still high at 1 in 5 for child sexual abuse and 1 in 14 for non-partner sexual assault.
This group of young women in Christchurch has called for compulsory teaching of consent in schools. That is what they asked for in response to their experience of male violence. It seems like a small ask (2).
In 2014 the Accident Compensation Commission launched the Mates and Dates healthy relationships programme intended for teaching years 9 to13. Its aim is to teach young people how to have healthy relationships based on respect, negotiation, and consent.
But in March 2017, following rape comments by male students at a Wellington school, then Minister of Education Hekia Parata ruled out introducing compulsory education around sexual consent in high schools, saying the subject was best addressed in a family setting. Ms Parata said the issue was a conversation for parents to have with their children, and schools had the freedom to supplement the pupils’ education if they wanted to.
In other words, families, some of which may perpetuate abuse of females, were to be trusted to teach sexual consent.
By April 2017, only 23% of high schools had taken up Mates and Dates. That is, only 87 of the 368 high schools to which it is available have bothered to implement it.
Consent falls under the “healthy relationships” part of the national curriculum but is only a suggested topic. By 2021, the number of schools teaching a programme with a consent component had dropped from the 23% in 2017, to 15%.
“Theoretically, the programme is nationally available to all young people of secondary school age in Aotearoa,” RespectEd chief executive, Fiona McNamara, told 1 NEWS. “But in practice it’s not reaching all of those young people, it’s extremely concerning.”
While uptake of programmes teaching consent to school children has dropped since 2017, the uptake of programmes teaching financial literacy has risen to 75% of all schools (3). Sorted in Schools has enormous success, and is also integrated into the curriculum with NCEA Level 1 and 2 credits on offer.
To be clear, since 2017, 75% of schools are teaching students about financial capability. In 2021, only 15% of schools have made a specific commitment to teaching consent, thus contributing to the sexual safety of their students – most especially their female students.
According to the CGHS Principal, the protesting students were wrong to single out one school.
Instead, she could have supported her students. She could have acknowledged that the problem of sexual assault is rife. That “global, systemic issues” cannot be addressed if specific examples cannot. The female students targeted the school they knew had perpetrators in attendance. They should not have been silenced.
Will the call of this group of young women be heeded? Chances are it won’t because a capitalist society values money over people, especially over female people.
1. There’s a saying in Christchurch – “if your son is intelligent, send him to CBHS, if he isn’t send him to Christ College for the networking”, which gives an insight into the demographics of both schools.
2. In 2017, New Zealand Family Violence Clearing House wrote:
“High school students, advocates and academics are continuing to call for mandatory education in schools focused on consent and healthy relationships.
The calls for mandatory consent education are in response to a series of recent comments supportive of rape culture made online by school students. At Wellington College, boys made comments condoning rape and later threats against students marching on parliament to demand compulsory education.
In a separate incident, boys at St. Patrick’s in Silverstream inappropriately filmed female teachers in what the college called a “most distressing incident of sexual harassment.” The two teachers subsequently resigned while the boys remain at the school, prompting a concerned parent to call the response a spectacular moral failure.
Students from Christchurch college St Bede’s were also sent home from a rowing regatta after making inappropriate comments about a female rower on social media. A number of other incidents have previously been reported in the media since the so-called “Roastbusters” group in West Auckland.”
3. In 2017 calls were made for the teaching of financial literacy in our schools. As One News reported, “[Retirement commissioner] Ms [Diane] Maxwell [said] “What I would love to see is financial capability embedded in the curriculum, being taught by the teachers and being measured as part of the overall school outcomes,” …. Ms Maxwell is on a mission to get parents talking to their kid about cash. “It is a parent’s responsibility, but often they say to us ‘we don’t know how to do it’,” she said. “I think you can start talking to kids from about five up. I think when kids get into their teens it really has meaning.””
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How very disturbing for our young woman to be dismissed like this. Their voices silenced. That is not good enough. Then to conduct a survey with even more disturbing results. A perfect storm brewing for ,Roast Busters to be reborn. Show some respect to our young women, they aren’t just fodder for privileged blokes.
Well put Tracey. To those who shut down these protests, you need to recognise we are now in the 21st century. At my 7th form prizegiving more than 50 years ago, noted educationalist Jack Shallcrass said schools were always a generation behind the students they serve. It seems nothing has changed