UNITY, a new program in Western Sydney, is equipping young girls and gender diverse youth with the tools to understand consent and build healthy relationships for their future selves.
The early intervention program was launched by Outloud, an intersectional, CALD-focused social impact arts organisation for young people.
Their aim is to provide girls and gender diverse youth aged 10 to 12 with the knowledge and skills to address key concerns, including consent, body image, bullying and heathy relationships.
CEO and artistic director of Outloud Finn O’Branagáin said early intervention is critical for young people to develop expertise and strength to stand up for their equal rights.
“We’re increasingly seeing young girls and gender diverse students face what seems to be an impossible situation; they feel immense peer pressure to take part in activities they don’t feel safe doing, and then are punished for doing them,” she said.
“[Early intervention] allows children to lay down a baseline of boundaries and expectations of how they should be treated, rather than waiting to unlearn thought patterns later on.
“Through our commitment to build on strengths rather than fears, we are working closely with young girls, teachers, social workers and community leaders to ensure the project is collaborative and evidence-based to adequately address the complex needs of young people.”
UNITY is a sister project to Outloud’s RESPECT program educating young boys about domestic violence, gender stereotypes and respect for women.
The program has proven to increase awareness and understanding of domestic violence and healthy relationships in 98 per cent of participants.
RESPECT program manager Craig Taunton said being able to provide similar support for young girls has been a long time coming.
“The Respect Program has been working with boys in schools now for 8 years and we have often been asked by the schools about having a similar program for the girls,” he said.
“So the UNITY Program is very exciting for me because creating healthy relationships in our younger generations means equipping all young people with the right tools.”
Twelve-year-old Yasmin, a participant in the working group for UNITY, said the program will help girls who might be having a hard time in school.
“It’s good for girls to stick together and make sure they feel respected and comfortable,” she said.
“Being treated equally and fairly by other peers and students makes me feel safe.”
UNITY comes in response to increased demand for better consent education for young people.
Last year, Kids Helpline found a considerable surge in searches for self-care resources on their website.
Page view for “sexting” increased by 55 per cent and “cyber bullying” by 39 per cent since the previous year among teens aged 13 to 18 years old.
Page views for the topic “all about respect” also reached the highest levels since the website started in 2000.
The increased trend of help-seeking behaviours clearly illustrates a need among young people for reliable information around issues of consent and healthy relationships.
Yourtown CEO Tracy Adams says sexting, cyber bullying and other inappropriate behaviours can increase mental health problems including stress and anxiety among young people,
“The increase in Kids Helpline website page views in 2020 indicates the importance of providing content which is relevant, engaging and which also creates pathways to help and professional support,” she said.
The UNITY program will run over two terms across primary schools in Bankstown NSW and will conclude with a creative outlet for the students to demonstrate what they have learnt.
Under the guidance of professional musicians, the students will write and produce a song based on the themes and learnings of the program.
They will also film a complementary music video to be presented at school assemblies and shared to the public online.
Principal of Birrong Girls High School Zena Dabaja spoke at the launch event for UNITY and said it is crucial to invest in young girls’ futures.
“By explicitly developing their skills to feel empowered, safe and confident in themselves, they can carve out a clear path to supporting each other and demand safety, respect and consent,” she said.