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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jewett

Sex ed, sexism and a tiny shoe: the Feminism In Schools Conference 2019

Updated: Nov 28, 2019

What did student activists get their teachers to write about on Post-It notes? Why did a young sex-education campaigner talk about children dying? And what object did a group of year 6 boys call “sexist and outrageous”?

This year’s Feminism in Schools Conference, held on 16 November 2019, brings up some fascinating points around relationships and sex education (RSE). Addressing the crowd of campaigners, teachers and teenage activists, Feminism In Schools Network founder Charlotte Carson says: “You’ve all brought along energy, experience – and hope.”

Up for discussion are sex-ed-relevant subjects such as consent-based education, student-led teacher training, challenging sexism in schools and getting sex ed right…

Gender equality in schools is the theme of the workshop led by Gender Action, a schools-award programme that challenges stereotypes both explicitly, as an issue, and implicitly by embedding gender-equal policies and practices as part of a whole-school approach.

Gender imbalance in schools is rife. We hear about:

  • girls being marked for presentation and neatness and boys for content

  • girls being praised for trying hard and boys for being intelligent

  • a cross-country race set at 4 miles for boys and 2 miles for girls

  • girls not having a basketball team or being allowed to play cricket

  • a gender audit of books at a primary school revealing that 82% featured boys as protagonists and none featured BAME girls, despite the school’s demographics

  • children policing other children – such as boys not letting other boys play with dolls

  • a study about feelings done with 5-year-olds in which girls could name 20 emotions while boys came up with just two: happy and angry

Schools and parents can redress gender imbalances, says workshop leader Georgina Phillips, by looking at language and consciously self-correcting – for instance by saying “children” instead of “boys and girls” (as suggested by the Let Toys Be Toys campaig