By: Trishita Bose
Calls are being made to teach schoolchildren about consent in the UK after Australia announced the landmark decision to introduce the subject from foundation school.
Australian Education ministers across the country voted unanimously to implement a comprehensive consent education programme for all private and public schools for children from the age of three.
The education will cover topics such as bullying and cyberbullying, setting and respecting boundaries, and power imbalances in relationships.
Calls for better education began with Chanel Contos, an Australian student, who created an Instagram poll in February 2021, asking her followers if they or someone they knew have been sexually assaulted in school.
After an overwhelming response to ‘yes’, Contos began an online petition to lobby for consent education in Australian schools, launching TeachUsConsent.com, a website for people to anonymously share their stories of sexual assault in school.
The website has since received signed petitions from more than 44,000 Australians.
Celebrating the news of the mandate, Chanel said on Instagram: ‘’Today marks exactly one year since we launched a petition demanding for earlier and more holistic consent education to be mandated in Australian schools.
“After over 44,000 signatures, more than 6,700 testimonies of sexual assault, and countless hours of volunteer work and support, we are very happy to announce that we did it.’’
Acting Education Minister Stuart Robert commended the efforts of Ms. Contos by saying: ‘’Chanel Contos from Teach Us Consent was invited to come along and speak to all ministers about the need for consent to be included in the health and physical education curriculum.
“And I can say there is wide and unanimous agreement from all jurisdictions about including that consent-based education within the curriculum under health and physical education.
“Accordingly, all ministers will be back in April to go through that curriculum.”
The ultimate goal of introducing Consent Education is to reduce sexual violence, especially among teenagers.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released a report in 2020 with a frightening statistic claiming that ‘almost 2 million Australian adults have experienced at least 1 sexual assault since the age of 15.’
According to Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2019, the rates of sexual assault victimisation recorded by police for Australians aged 15 and over rose by more than 30% between 2010 and 2018.
With these statistics showing a high number of teenage sexual abuse cases, mandatory consent education is a huge step in the right direction to produce well-rounded individuals respectful of boundaries and compassionate to differences.
In the UK, Relationships Education is compulsory in all primary schools, and Relationships and Sex Education compulsory in all secondary schools.
Only Health Education is compulsory in all state-funded schools.
In 2021, ShoutOut UK and Reclaim These Streets launched Consent Education classes to reach students across the country.
Private schools can book these classes for their students, which give important lessons on women’s safety, consent, gender justice and revenge porn.
Anna Birley, Co-founder, Reclaim These Streets said: ‘’We have an opportunity to change that damaging narrative, and to engage boys and girls in a conversation about consent and respect, so that the next generation of men can champion women’s right to walk unmolested and unharassed in all public spaces.’’
This new mandate in Australia will hopefully open new conversations about adopting Consent Education into the curriculum from early years to later grades in the UK and help foster a culture of respect, consent and compassion.