Since the launch of the “Fair Sex” project in 2012, educational staff have been involved in knowledge-building activities in order to be able to facilitate the development of sustainable strategies for addressing and preventing any form of sexual violence in a school environment. Teachers and other school personnel meet students on a regular basis and are bound to witness how students treat each other in both an in- and off- classroom setting. They are also carriers of norms and values that shape patterns of behavior and attitudes of young people. Therefore self-reflection and analysis of school’s response to incidents of sexual violence among students is an important tool for raising awareness among school personnel and providing them with tools for effectively preventing, intervening and managing all forms of sexual violence.
In 2012, both lower and upper secondary school personnel on Åland were offered a series of training sessions covering such topics as gender norms regarding sexuality, the link between gender inequality and sexual violence, violence as expression of masculinity, normalization of sexual harassment in young people’s lives, consequences of not conforming to traditional gender roles etc. The training participants were also presented with the concept of Fair Sex workshops and involved in a number of interactive exercises and group discussions for reflecting on the root causes of sexual misconduct and various forms of violence that girls and boys are subjected to.
As a part of the training, the school personnel had to review the school curriculum and other school policy documents to examine in which way they address the issues of equality, harassment and violence. Based on the collected findings and observations, the school representatives were provided with space to discuss concrete measures to be taken in situations of violence and harassment. The importance of having a common strategy for intervening in such cases was highlighted, for showing support to the victim, but also for demonstrating that this type of behavior is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.
The training for upper secondary school representatives included a session on the Finnish Action Equality between Women and Men (1986/2005), which contains a provision that all educational institutions providing upper secondary education and training must prepare a gender equality plan annually in cooperation with staff and student representatives. The plan must include a survey of the gender equality situation within the institution and of related problems, and the necessary measures that are planned to implement with the purpose of promoting gender equality. Special attention must be given to the attainment of gender equality in student selections and when organizing teaching and evaluating study performance, and to measures to ensure the prevention and elimination of sexual harassment and gender-based harassment.
At the time of the training, none of the upper secondary schools on Åland had been able to meet this requirement, mainly due to the limited experience of similar work within the organization as well as the lack of external support and guidance. Thus, the next step in working with upper secondary schools was to build competence and commitment for developing gender equality work in line with the provisions in the Act on Equality between Women and Men.
In 2013, the three upper secondary schools on Åland appointed gender equality groups composed of representatives from teachers, other school personnel, students, and, in two cases, school management. The Åland Islands Peace Institute provided support and counseling to the groups in taking the necessary steps for drawing up a gender equality plan and identifying the most relevant gender equality problems, setting specific and measurable goals as well as selecting efficient actions to achieve them. As a result of this process, every school produced a gender equality plan based on situations and challenges in the individual school setting. Another task for gender equality groups was to update the existing action plan for responding to sexual harassment in a way that clarifies the concrete steps and measures to be taken in situations where students are affected. The Åland Islands Peace Institute stayed in contact with the gender equality groups throughout 2014 and offered individual counseling for discussing difficulties and requirements that had come up.