Breaking the silence on youth gender-based violence

I like that the boys are learning how to be kind to girls and to see us as equals. I feel excited that they will start treating us better.
Allen Edwards Year 5 girl

Gender-based violence (sometimes referred to as GBV) is a social issue that has attracted much attention in the past few years. However, the conversation often excludes the issue of this violence within youth relationships. Today’s youth have been raised in a hypersexualised media culture that has resulted in the objectification of girls. The violence that girls face within their adolescent relationships has not been constructively addressed and, when discussed, young voices are often side-lined. Studies undertaken in 81 countries shows that 29.4% of girls between the ages of 15-19 experience physical and/or sexual GBV within their intimate partner relationships. Tragically, exposure to gender-based violence places youth on a lifelong trajectory of violence, either as victims or perpetrators.

There has never been a more urgent need to engage, educate and empower our young people. Educational charity, Action Breaks Silence, works at the heart of communities with youth, school management, teachers and caregivers to facilitate real and lasting behavioural change through the Action Breaks Silence Community Intervention. We take a look at their recent work in Lambeth primary schools.

Breaking the silence

In October 2021, Action Breaks Silence was awarded £78,919 as part of the MOPAC Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Grassroots Fund to contribute towards the Action Breaks Silence Community Intervention programme. Read more about the fund here.

Their programme works with 2,402 young people, carers/parents, school staff and local agencies across London schools. It provides a space for students, school management, teachers and caregivers to become active bystanders who resist sexual harassment and sexual violence by challenging gender inequality and toxic masculinity at school and in their communities.

Building confidence in the playground

From May to June 2021, the group engaged with five primary schools. Girl students participated in the Empowerment Through Self-Defence & Active Bystander Programme and the boys in the Hero Empathy and Active Bystander Programme. The sessions were held with Year 5 and 6 girls and boys, where it was reported some of the older students had begun to harass the girls at school.

Since working with the group, teachers have reported a noticeable difference in how the girls interact, both with each other and with the boy students; where they once felt isolated, they are now speaking up and sticking together. These girls are implementing lessons from the sessions to become active bystanders and have learnt to identify some of their prior experiences as abuse. The feedback has been incredibly positive, with the programme proving a great success for the girls’ confidence and self-esteem.

What I really enjoyed seeing was the impact on the children outside of the sessions. The children are having conversations outside of the classroom, they were so empowered and, in the playground, the conversation was continued. You could immediately see the impact.
Allen Edward’s Primary School Year 5 teacher

Diversity in delivery

In addition to their VAWG work, Action Breaks Silence also places a crucial emphasis on diversity, inclusion and youth employment. As part of their ‘Train the Trainer’ programme, the charity sourced young trainers via a recruitment agency led by and for Black and Minoritised communities in Lambeth. The programme trained four young women (all under the age of 25, three BAME) and recruited two young men. These trainers will become active bystanders and local role models working to end VAWG in communities where the youth voice often goes unheard.

We received feedback from one of our Somali trainers with lived experience of VAWG. She felt that her role was very cathartic. She has been very inspirational in the classes as many of the young people in schools are of Somali backgrounds.

What next?

Students who completed Phase One in Summer '21 will participate in Phase One in Summer '22. This gives the Action Breaks Silence team a perfect window to deliver the programme to the new Year 5 September '21 intake. The autumn term will also be used to deliver the Empowerment through Self-Defence Workshop to female parents and caregivers. Secondary school students will also be engaged in the Action Breaks Silence Youth Ambassador Programme – a strategy of change created by Action Breaks Silence to tackle gender-based violence within youth relationships in secondary schools.