Respectful relationships: we need to get it right
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 126 No 4, 28 May 2021, page no.17
Every school community and TAFE campus across the state has been impacted by domestic and family violence (DFV) and gendered violence.
Australia has a gender violence problem and it is literally killing us. It has a devasting impact on us as citizens and communities - and an economic impact. We know that DFV affects the students we teach, our colleagues, our friends and our families. Importantly, we also know that it is preventable.
In 2015, the Queensland Government released the “Not Now, Not Ever” report (https://www.justice.qld.gov.au/initiatives/end-domestic-family-violence/about/not-now-not-ever-report), which highlighted the crucial role respectful relationships play in the prevention of DFV. The Respect@Work report (https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/sex-discrimination/publications/respectwork-community-guide-sexual-harassment-national) includes a nationwide respectful relationships education program (RREP) as one of 55 key recommendations.
Across the nation, there have been renewed calls for consent to be explicitly taught in our schools given the prevalence of sexual assaults and gendered violence experienced by young women and girls. The government and department have committed to reviewing the RREP program to ensure this is done.
In 2018/2019, Our Watch, an independent not-for-profit organisation campaigning for the prevention of violence against women and their children, conducted an RREP pilot in Victorian and Queensland schools (https://education.ourwatch.org.au/resource/rre-final-evaluation-report/). Unlike the previous incarnation of RRE in Queensland, this pilot focused on gendered inequality as the primary driver of violence against women and took a whole-of-school approach. It also focused on the importance of professional development for all school staff, and the crucial role the school environment plays in the prevention of DFV.
As a key stakeholder, the QTU has been providing feedback to Queensland’s RREP review and has consistently called for funding to support this important program. It is extraordinary that a state government committed to gender equality and ending DFV has to date failed to provide any money or budget to the RREP implementation.
This is in stark contrast to the Victorian model, where $37.5 million is provided for RREP in 2020/2021 alone (https://www.education.vic.gov.au/about/programs/pages/respectfulrelationships.aspx). In Victoria, each region has two dedicated support people to provide assistance with schools' program and staff needs. In Queensland, the plan has been for regional staff to support schools in addition to their other roles. The planned professional development will be web-based, with no face-to-face PD in the pipeline.
While COVID-19 has dealt a devasting blow to the economics of the state, the lack of funding for this important program is a false economy. We need to give teachers and school communities the time to unpack and understand this work. Teachers need access to quality professional development and support to understand how they can integrate the excellent resources and curriculum being developed.
The disconnect between the political-speak and the reality in schools is vast. Very few schools are embracing a genuine whole-of-school approach to respectful relationships, despite the “compulsory” requirement.
You fund what you value. RREP in Queensland desperately needs adequate funding and time to truly do what we know it can – make real, intergenerational change in attitudes towards gender equality and thus prevent gendered violence and DFV (https://media-cdn.ourwatch.org.au/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2021/03/29130252/RRE-Evidence-paper-accessible-100321.pdf). And how can that be a bad thing?