Fair Sex – a way of discussing sexual violence
The project “Fair Sex” aims at preventing gender based violence, promoting positive sexual experiences and advancing gender equality. Another aim is to provide support to the upper secondary schools on Åland in creating structures and routines for sustainable gender equality work. In this way, the project is using a holistic approach to address sexual violence, not only building awareness among students, but also providing knowledge and skills for school staff and strengthening their capacity to be observant and intervene when witnessing harassment or violence. The project “Fair Sex” thus includes two interrelated components – Fair Sex workshops for upper secondary school students and training and counselling activities for education staff. As a whole, these combined activities are being referred to as the Fair Sex Method.
The Fair Sex Method is developed using a gender-aware, inclusive and norm-critical approach that questions the prevailing societal norms and expectations regarding gender, sexuality and violence. The Method has its basis in gender theory and views sexual violence both as a consequence of gender inequality and an obstacle in achieving gender equality in societal and individual contexts. In order to combat sexual violence one needs to address different areas of societal life where school plays a major role. Therefore both students and educational staff are seen as important actors in creating a school environment free from any form of sexual violence, including widespread everyday harassment in the form of inappropriate name calling, sexual jokes, offensive sexual remarks or uninvited touching. This does not mean that sexual violence is a problem specific for a school environment, but school is a place which plays an important role in creating different norms, including norms and expectations with regard to gender or other aspects of human identity. Therefore school is seen as a suitable arena for preventive work that targets young people of certain age.
The Fair Sex Method also aims to challenge the normalization of everyday sexual violence and sexism, within a student community as well as a broader societal context. By using a norm-critical approach, the Method seeks to illuminate and question different norms taken for granted rather than focusing on the deviation from the norm. To belong to one or several norms, the “common” and unquestioned, means advantages, which are only highlighted when someone or something breaks the norm. Norm-critical approach has proven to be a powerful way of addressing all kinds of stereotypes and prejudices in the framework of Fair Sex workshops, including the stereotype that all sexual contact is limited to heterosexual relationships and the view of sexual activity as mainly associated with penetrative sex and reproduction.
Another essential aspect of the Fair Sex Method is an ambition to empower individuals to defend their bodily integrity and physical autonomy and yet to be able to express and explore their sexuality in a safe and consensual way. The core of the Fair Sex workshops for students is devoted to discussion and reflection, which allows the students to listen to the thoughts and ideas of others and to come to their own conclusions and insights. The opportunity to talk about sexuality and sexual violence with specially trained adults is also seen as a way of empowering students to break free from peer pressure and gendered expectations.