At Bridgetown High School in Athlone, a group of 15 students gather in an empty classroom after school to meet three Rape Crisis facilitators.
These students have been selected to participate in Rape Crisis’s Peer Education initiative, a programme run in collaboration with high schools identified as at high risk for sexual violence.
For the next seven weeks, they will be covering a wide range of topics in their training course, and the knowledge they gain will equip them to become role models in their schools and communities.
The session today will cover ‘Sex and Gender’, two concepts that most students had never thought about as separate before.
The group starts with an icebreaker, a lively dance led by Princess that gets the whole group moving and singing.
Next, the facilitators begin a group discussion. “I’ve never thought about the difference between sex and gender before” says Tricily, “I’m learning lots of new things that I want to share with my friends.”
Although shy at first (there is a collective giggle when the facilitator first says ‘penis’), the learners are soon intent on the exercise in front of them, which asks them to decide whether a statement is related to sex or gender. They are deep in discussion until the very last moment.
In coming weeks, the course will begin to address other complex topics like drug abuse, Rape Trauma Syndrome and the legal processes relating to rape. They will also learn new skills like team work, public speaking and how to organise a campaign.
The session ends with some feedback from the students. “It’s been interesting and enjoyable” says Kgotso, “I’m excited to continue with the lessons.”
Once they graduate, the new Peer Educators will be able to help oppose rape culture through challenging the myths and stigma often associated with sexual violence; raise awareness amongst their peers; and provide support and signposting to those who have experienced it.
We thank Oxfam Australia and the MATCH International Women’s Fund for funding this important work.
Author: Emily Whiteside
Photographs: Brittany Broderick