Gender violence has been a key theme of the European Union’s Daphne programme. I have been involved with a most exciting and innovative Daphne-funded research project to develop free online training tools, which we hope will help teachers, youth workers and health professionals across Europe to tackle gender-related violence in children and young people’s lives.
Our particular approach in the GAP WORK project draws on earlier research I conducted with Dr Pam Alldred of Brunel University (where the project is based). It found that teachers, health and youth workers do not feel adequately trained to work with children and young people around sex, sexuality and relationships and showed how sex education and dealing with violence remains marginalised in school curricula. Such professionals have shown anxiety and lack of confidence in dealing particularly with issues about controlling and abusive behaviour against children and young people.
And yet increasingly, these professionals have responsibilities that they do not feel adequately trained for – to safeguard children and young people from violence and controlling, bullying and abusive behaviour. Quite clearly, health, youth and education workers or teachers can make a real difference to children and young people’s lives in helping them respond to sexist and bullying or abusive behaviour. But there is a major gap between their training needs and how they are being met. All professionals working with children and young people need to be confident about discussing sex, relationships, sexuality and violence in order to meet young people’s needs and to fulfill their own safe-guarding duties.
We have found this to be the case in not only the UK, where our previous research was conducted, but also across many countries of Europe. We have therefore worked together with research teams based in Ireland (at Maynouth University, the National University of Ireland), Italy (at the University of Turin), and in Spain (at the University Rovira I Virgili, near Barcelona). We have also worked with associate partners in Hungary and Serbia. Inevitably, we have had to be selective in how we worked in each country and context, given the scale and scope of the problems of gender-related violence. But in each country, the focus has been on promoting equality alongside challenging violence and gender norms with a range of professionals such as teachers, youth and social workers, and health workers.
Building upon a growing body of international feminist research on gender-related violence, we have focused upon feminist work on gender norms, to understand how societal approaches are deeply embedded within everyday practices. We have also considered the connections with growing concerns about entrenched sexist and homophobic attitudes in work with young people.
We wanted to respond to the apparently increasing prevalence of gender-related violence amongst young people, and to train professionals to be able to respond. We have developed training materials and we ran free workshops for more than 800 practitioners in Ireland, Italy, Spain and the UK. We have trained these diverse professionals in these 4 countries to spot and intervene where sexist, sexualising, homophobic and controlling behaviour are present in the peer cultures or home lives of the young people they work with.
In Ireland, the team there developed materials for university-based workshops, as part of the training for youth workers. A key finding from those who attended the workshops was that almost all of them had witnessed gender-related violence or knew someone who had experienced it. In Italy, the team based at the University of Turin developed training specifically to redress the marginalisation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in the fight against ‘machismo’. It brought these issues together for the first time in developing training materials for health workers especially.
In Spain, the teams based around the University Rovira I Virgili developed innovative and collaborative feminist and LGBTQ methods and pedagogies, and worked with the various local communities made up variously of health, social and educational workers. A key critical approach here was how effective the learning was through starting from reflection on individual experience.
In the UK, we found ourselves working outside the mainstream educational context, with local authorities and youth agencies. Concerns were raised about how much room for manoeuvre those working in schools feel they have. While youth and community workers seemed more able to develop activities based on the training materials, the buy-in of senior managers was crucial to secure change.
We hope our ground breaking set of online training tools will help teachers, youth workers and health professionals across Europe. We hope these diverse professionals can identify and challenge controlling and abusive behaviour against young people, or support and refer those young people affected. The tools have been developed to train practitioners and some are for direct use in work with children and young people. They aim to ensure that young people affected by gender-related violence are quickly referred to appropriate support services. Our free online tools are available on the project website, where specific resources from each partner country can be found. A brief video taster of some of UK trainee teachers’ responses to the training is also on the website.
A full report of the GAP WORK project findings about the experience of the four different training models is published in five languages: Spanish, Italian, Hungarian, Serbian and English.