School gender studies

Harassment reports renew call for high school women's course
 
Gender studies would help female students deal with inappropriate sexual behaviour, activists say
Toronto Star   Feb 15, 2008 Louise Brown

Alarming new reports of sexual harassment in Toronto high schools show the need for Queen's Park to create a women's studies course without delay, says a group of university students who have been lobbying for this kind of course for three years.

"We now have two new reports telling us sexual harassment, bullying and sexual assault are running rampant in Ontario high schools, and at the very least we need a course where students can begin to talk about these experiences and how to address them," said Sarah Ghabrial, a co-founder of the group.

The group of about 15 demonstrated yesterday outside provincial government offices with a mural of articles about sexual assaults and murders of women that have taken place since they began pushing the Liberals for the course.

Education Minister Kathleen Wynne told the group yesterday that progress is being made to develop the optional high school course, as part of a larger plan for making schools more safe.

"They are working on developing course materials, but we know that the whole issue of sexual violence goes way beyond the curriculum."

But Conservative MPP Elizabeth Witmer said she is "shocked" the government has taken so long to develop a course in women's and gender studies, which she called "one way to build young women's confidence and make sure they realize they have the power to say no."

A study released last week by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health showed almost half of female high schoolers are subjected to sexual comments or gestures, and one-third are touched, grabbed or pinched in a sexual way.

Almost a third of Grade 11 students said they felt pressured into sexual activity, and 15 per cent admitted they performed oral sex to avoid having intercourse.

Lawyer Julian Falconer's recent report on school safety in Toronto revealed "alarming rates" of sexual harassment in the halls.

The government has provided some funding for pilot courses in a handful of Ontario schools on women's studies, which cover topics such as sexist language, violence in the media and body image.

The young women lobbying for the course call their group the Miss G Project, a nod to the first female American – known only as Miss G – to attend university, only to have doctors blame her premature death in 1873 on overuse of her brain.