NCWNZ is very concerned about the announcement that education about sexuality and gender within the Relationships & Sexuality Education (R&SE) aspect of the Health and Physical Education curriculum is to be removed.
Young women are all too aware of the impact of the lack of information about relationships, as they experience this through sexual harassment and assault in significant numbers. Research and data clearly show that sexual harm is rife in our secondary schools, and that this continues into university and adult society, where 1 in 3 women in New Zealand will experience some form of sexual assault.
At the core of many sexual assault court trials is the question and interpretation of consent. Dr Suzanne Manning, President of NCWNZ, says, “We cannot address a lack of understanding of consent, sexuality and gender issues by ignoring them. Young people need to be able to talk with each other supported by independent professionals and their parents if we’re going to increase understanding and make progress on these difficult topics. We are also aware that not all young people have trusted caregivers that they can talk to, which means they will find out about relationships from other – not always reliable – sources.”
According to the latest Gender Attitudes survey, New Zealanders are relatively comfortable with schools teaching about sexuality and gender. The Survey shows 2 out of 3 Kiwis agree with including these topics in the school curriculum at some age. NCWNZ’s recent Consent Education survey identified that R&SE modules are being taught at years 9 or 10. While this provides at least some exposure to this valued topic, time constraints cited by teachers means that the subject may need a lengthier and more in-depth approach to meet the need. However, the survey also showed that in senior high school, when teenagers are experimenting with intimate relationships, there is practically no R&SE education available.
In the same way that we provide guidance on other essential subjects in our curriculum, we cannot pretend that these vital issues will be adequately or accurately conveyed to young people if we ignore them. New Zealand teenagers must be given healthy, informed advice and structure for understanding what acceptable and respectful behaviour and relationships are if they are to grow into responsible adults in our society. Future generations of New Zealand women and girls deserve to live healthier and safer lives and consent education can help us achieve this.