“Fair Sex” is a project run by the Åland Island Peace Institute, which aims at the prevention of sexual violence and the promotion of gender equality among youth on the Åland Islands. The project includes interactive workshops for students at secondary schools as well as training and consulting activities for teachers and headmasters on how to promote gender equality in school. The project also has an outreach perspective targeted at schools and the society at large.
The Åland Islands Peace Institute works practically and with research into peace and conflict issues in a broadly defined sense. In its practical work, the institute focuses primarily on the prevention of violence and the empowerment of individuals and groups at all levels of society. One of the Institute’s main perspectives in all work is gender, and a big part of the practical work is carried out in the framework of regional co-operation, i.e. empowerment projects with partners in neighboring areas but also on the local level, in co-operation with civil society organizations and schools on Åland.
Fair Sex started in 2011, as an information campaign on the Åland Islands within the international, EU-funded project “Challenging Gender Roles for Prevention of Trafficking”. With financing from the Government of Åland, the material developed in the original campaign was later developed into interactive workshops for students in their second year of secondary school. Since 2012, the project also includes training and consulting for teachers and school managements on how to work against sexual harassments in schools.
Working with students – workshops about sex and relationships
Fair Sex workshops give young people a possibility to discuss norms about sex and relations in an interactive and deliberative way. We discuss themes such as respect and mutuality, listening for a yes, rumors and reputations, gray areas, sexual violence, and the expectations there are on boys and girls when it comes to sex. The purpose is to question prejudges and norms connected to gender and sexuality, but also to create space for discussions about sex with young people and in society at large. Talking about sex in structures but nonetheless non-formal and relaxed discussions, often in mixed groups, is something not everyone has experience of. It is also an opportunity to spread information and present other perspectives of sex, sexuality and sexual violence than the simplified picture often presented in movies, commercials, magazines and pornography.
Our experience and the results of the students’ evaluations show that there is a desire among young people to discuss sex and relationships. We have also seen that this kind of interactive training itself serves a purpose in classes where the students don’t have much experience of expressing their opinion, presenting their arguments and reflect on such issues. The training method in itself, which is non-formal and interactive, can therefore be considered to have an empowering effect.
Norms and stereotypes connected to sex and sexuality, group pressure and media’s messages about sex, is something the students are well aware of and critical to. But, despite their opposition, both boys and girls recognize a pressure to act and behave in certain ways. For example, boys are expected to often or always want to have sex and girls, who have sex with different partners, risk to get a bad reputation. Many students are also unaware of The fact that boys can become victims of rape.
There is a manifest need to discuss ambiguous signals, gray areas, and respectful relationship. Most people know that you always have the right to say no to sex, and that sex is mutual when “both want to”. But communication about sex is not always easy and often proves to be sensitive. [LL1] most of us would agree that you always have the right to say no to sex, but that it may be mean to say no to someone whom you have made out with or followed home after a night out. Research indicated that especially girls have had sex in situations when they actually have not wanted, in fear of disappointing their partner. There is also a tendency of belittling sexual assault and rape when the perpetrator is a partner or a friend. There is a widespread picture that girls report innocent guys as rapists as revenge, while many (mainly girls) express in survey that they would not report an assault based on fear of not being believed.
Working with the teachers – rooting awareness in schools
To ensure a long-term approach to violence prevention and to the promotion of gender equality, also teachers and school managements need to be involved. School shall be a place free from violations/harassments and discrimination. Teachers have a big responsibility since they meet the students on a regular and long-term basis; they see how the students feel and how they treat each other. To work against sexual harassment and to make sure that no student is discriminated against, not in the classroom or anywhere else in school, teachers, headmasters and welfare teams in schools need competence and high level of awareness about gender issues and norms, as well as about their students’ reality when it comes to gender equality and sexuality.
The Åland Islands Peace Institute’s teacher training in Fair Sex aims to equip teachers and schools with tools to discover, deal with and prevent sexual violence and harassment. The basis of this work forms discussions about gender and norms, about the staffs’ own experience and their visions for their school. In 2012, Fair Sex trainings was held with teachers and headmasters from all Ålandic first and secondary schools[LL2] . During 2013, the Ålandic secondary schools are offered guidance to develop and improve gender equality plans.
Activity report 2013 (pdf)