The Mayor of London has launched a new ‘allyship training’ scheme across the capital’s schools, aimed at teaching boys how to recognise and stamp out sexism in the classroom and among their peers, saying, “we must put the onus of responsibility on men and boys to change the way they perceive, treat and talk about women if we are going to truly fix the problem of violence against women and girls.”
Sadiq Khan is investing £1million in the training scheme, which will introduce an education ‘toolkit’ to help boys recognise and stand up against sexist behaviour. The resource will be available to every secondary school in London and will include lesson plans, advice on how to call out sexism, interactive workshops about building healthy relationships, and discussions on behaviours towards women and girls. It forms part of what the mayor is calling a “wide-ranging public health approach to ending the epidemic of violence against women and girls.”
Speaking to Cosmopolitan at the launch of the scheme at Rokeby School in Newham, Mr Khan said that the program is a direct response to women and girls’ frustrations that support and advice surrounding sexism is repeatedly directed at their own behavioural changes. “This report is us responding to that very raw criticism,” he said.
“We’ve got to deal with the pipeline of people who go on to become tomorrow’s perpetrators […] That’s not saying all boys are sexists or all boys are going to grow up and be bad people but saying ‘listen, part and parcel of living in our society is recognising that my experience is different from yours’.”
As well as delivering the resource to schools across the capital, the mayor has written to community centres, colleges, and faith groups in a bid to get as many people involved in using the toolkit as possible, with uptake and progress to be monitored across the next three years.
“Men have got to change the attitudes of their gender, because most of the violence against women and girls is because of us, Mr Kahn told students at the North London boy’s school. “I hope that today’s boys grow up with more empathy and a better understanding than yesterday’s generation,” he added.
The toolkit has been created in partnership with arts and education charity Tender which works with young people to end abuse. The group will be visiting schools across the capital to deliver sessions and hammer home the real impact of misogyny.
Susie McDonald, chief executive of Tender, told Cosmopolitan that while changes to the curriculum in 2020 expanded sex education to include issues around attitudes to women, teachers haven’t been given the time or confidence to deliver it with nuance.
“This campaign is different because it is starting with children and young people to give them the language and the confidence to say it’s alright to call out their friends if they’re not comfortable about something. We are doing boys and men such a disservice by saying we can’t talk about the fact that the majority of perpetrators are men, because how can we ever change something if we’re not addressing the fundamental root of that”
Women’s Aid welcomed the campaign, telling Cosmopolitan: “We know how important it is to educate young people on healthy relationships. By teaching young people to challenge sexist and misogynistic views, we can help tackle the root of violence against women and girls.”
The announcement forms part of City Hall’s wider promise to tackle sexism in the capital by teaching men and boys about misogyny to create a “ripple effect” of positive change. The strategy also includes the #HaveAWord campaign that launched earlier this year.
Similar campaigns launched last year in Scotland and in Manchester, with Police Scotland’s 2021 That Guy campaign placing the cause of sexual offending with men and Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham leading a campaign that asked men and boys to challenge their behaviour towards women.
Conversations around violence against women and girls were reignited following the rape and murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard by a serving Met police officer in 2021, leading the government to publish a Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy. But women’s charities urged proper funding to be assigned to tackle the issue.
The latest ONS figures reveal that sexual offence reports increased to their highest-ever level over the last 12 months, meanwhile a 2021 Ofsted review into sexual abuse in education found 9 out of 10 girls had experienced sexist name-calling and that 92% of girls had been sent unsolicited media of a sexual nature.
The mayor’s campaign comes a week after a report by the police watchdog revealed sexual predators were being allowed into the police due to vetting failures.
Mr Kahn told Cosmopolitan that we must accept that women’s confidence in police has been “shaken” by “a series of scandals in police services across the country”. He said that the new commissioner [Sir Mark Rowley] understands the importance of high standards and that the Met also has hopes to increase new female police officer recruits to 50% to create a fairer force [women currently make up 30% of the Met], whilst also ensuring whistle-blowers have the confidence to come forward.
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