International Women’s Day: school is ‘the new front line of feminism’

Surveys reveal a growing trend that young women, many in their teens, are taking up cause of gender equality via social media. This is from the Guardian…

Between studying for her GCSEs and practising the viola, Lili Evans made some new “feminist bracelets” to celebrate International Women’s Day on Friday. Before leaving for school she will also email and tweet to fellow members of #twitteryouthfeministarmy, or TYFA for short, the social media group aiming to spread the word of feminism to girls as young as nine.

Started with some friends, the idea behind the teenage Twitter campaign was to “call out sexism on the internet”, says Evans, 15 from south London. “Twitter is where all the cool feminists are,” she says.

Surveys and anecdotal evidence may suggest that few young women identify with the word feminism, fearing it sits at odds with a desire to wear make-up or heels. Yet there are increasing signs of an interest in gender equality issues among these same young women who are turning to social media such as blogs, Twitter and Facebook to reach out to fellow activists or just to share experiences and seek advice about what can be done.

Laura Bates, the founder of the #everydaysexism campaign, says that 10% of the more than 20,000 entries detailing harassment come from children under 16, with many more from schools and colleges. Campaign group UK Feminista has been so inundated with requests to speak to schools around the country that it has now launched a two-year programme of workshops and campaigns in school. Called Generation F: Young feminists in action, the project comes as the government considers a cross party bid to introduce sex and relationship education to schools, which is not compulsory.

Kat Banyard, the founder of UK Feminista, describes school as “the new front line of feminism”.

Other more traditional organisations have also been struck by the urge to speak out, among them Girlguiding, which is to launch its first advocacy and campaigning project to mark Friday’s International Women’s Day. An organisation with 500,000 members, which is more often described as the Women’s Institute for girls, describes its Girls in Action project as a way of teaching girls to campaign on matters of importance including violence against women and girls and gender inequality.

Jo Hobbs, director of guiding services, said: “We wanted to focus on gender as an issue. The campaign to end violence against women and girls can often focus on other parts of the world but it happens here too.”

Several new reports suggest that schoolgirls are being subjected to high levels of sexual harassment and bullying partly as a result of the web. A report by Womankind Worldwide revealed that one in three young women experience sexual bullying in school while close to one third of 16- to 18-year-olds admit to seeing sexual pictures on mobile phones at school a few times a month or more, according to the End Violence Against Women Coalition. A survey for the Channel 4 programme Sex Education versus Pornography found three in 10 of 14- to 17-year-olds said they learn about sex from porn while 60% agreed that “pornography might give boys or girls false ideas about sex”.

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