Teaching respectful relationships in the classroom will help prevent the next generation of domestic violence, as Senator Larissa Waters explains.
Teenage relationships may seem a lifetime ago, but I can still remember clearly the confusion and awkwardness of navigating them in those formative years.
In the uncertainty of some teenage relationships, controlling behaviours, such as partners checking text messages or vetoing clothing, can emerge without being recognised as wrong.
Young people cannot be expected to automatically develop an understanding of what constitutes a respectful relationship, especially when they are flooded with mixed-messages through entertainment, social media and peers.
And research shows some young people are sadly getting the wrong messages: A 2013 national survey found young Australians aged 16 – 24 were more likely than Australians generally to hold attitudes that support men having greater power than women in relationships.
We know that attitudes of gender inequality are conducive to a culture in which domestic violence, emotional and physical, can exist. This is why it’s so important that we work on shifting these attitudes in communities of young people before they can give rise to violence.
In solving our national domestic violence crisis, school programs are essential to preventing violence against women before it begins, with the hope that our next generation of adult partners and parents can live free of this national scourge. While some schools already have such programs in place, there are still many schools in need of them.
Related content: Why is this still happening in public schools?
The Senate Inquiry into domestic violence, which I established with tri-partisan support, recently recommended in its interim report that education on respectful relationships be a part of the National Curriculum.
The Queensland domestic violence taskforce, led by Dame Quentin Bryce, also recommended education programs for all school students in its report ‘Not Now, Not Ever’ released in February.
The Taskforce recommended programs to embed through school life a culture that emphasises developing and maintaining respectful relationships; resolving conflict without violence; respecting self; and gender equality.
Both the Senate Inquiry and the Taskforce were thorough consultative processes, with significant input from educators, researchers, service providers and government departments, over many months.
But it appears the federal government is unfortunately, to date, failing to take these recommendations on board.
Recently it was revealed that the federal government funding will run out in June for a successful, long-established healthy relationships program for northern NSW schools.
The program was funded through a federal social services grants program, which also supported domestic violence services and was subject to a $240 million cut by the government in the last budget.
The award-winning program, REALskills, has taught more than 7000 high school students and has been running for close to 12 years.
A staff member told ABC radio that program evaluations had found ninety five per cent of young people report that they can take a stand for respectful relationships.
It simply does not make sense to cut this program which is making a real difference on the ground, especially when the government has recently been so vocal about the need to act on domestic violence.
The federal government, along with all of the state governments, recently announced a joint advertising campaign of $30 million to reduce domestic violence.
Related content: $30m announced to reduce domestic violence.
Recently, the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Women, Michaelia Cash, announced that the campaign would reach boys aged 9 to 12 through social media with messages of gender equality.
While the advertising campaign is welcome, it’s counter-productive to deny funding to programs that are already achieving outcomes which would support the campaign’s goals.
In fact, many in the women’s sector believe the money would be better spent on school programs.
A group of 60 Australian women’s sector organisations have written to the Prime Minister to ask that the funding for the advertising campaign be redirected to roll out respectful relationships education programs as part of the National Curriculum.
Solving our nation’s shameful domestic violence crisis will require funding for multiple prevention measures, as well as long term, stable funding for immediate crisis support for women and their children escaping domestic violence and long-term support to keep them safe.
The government says ending domestic violence is a priority and I wholeheartedly support that.
But it needs to put funded action behind those words. Finding the money is a matter of priorities.
It will require the government to raise revenue in the budget from those who can afford to pay (international corporates that minimise their tax, mining conglomerates that we currently subsidise, the big banks, people earning hundreds of thousands of dollars who avoid tax by exploiting superannuation tax loopholes).
With the budget coming up next week, the government needs to prove it’s prepared to raise revenue and commit funding to solve what is a national emergency that is leaving women murdered on a weekly basis.
Queensland Senator Larissa Waters is the Australian Greens spokesperson for women. She is also the newly elected Co-Deputy Leader of the Greens Party.