'JUST SAY NO' to the Sexist Abstinence Education Bill

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Last week, we kept hoping that a miracle would occur and cancel our Religious Studies lesson on Friday so we could attend a protest against Nadine Dorries' Sex Education Bill for girls. Luckily, our teacher ended up attending a training course on that day, allowing my fellow angry teenage feminist friends to stand in Old Palace Yard looking gloomy and furious with picket signs until our fingers and toes began to numb from the cold weather.

The speeches presented on the day were from such a diverse range of groups and organisations, but what struck me was that they weren't just against Nadine Dorries' ridiculous anti-women policies that she claims 'empower' girls while she'd advocate for taking away their right to being educated about their bodies and sex (and if her abortion bill had passed, then she'd have limited the time in which they could actually get an abortion). The speakers ranged from journalist and feminist Laurie Penny to Education for Choice. Laura Hurley from Education for Choice demonstrated the sort of methods they use to teach sex education to primary school and secondary school age students. (Interestingly enough, she actually gave a talk at our school last year.)

The bill was withdrawn, but not without some controversy about how it actually occurred. There was a slightly condescending comment in the Independent: 'a hardy band of demonstrators gathered outside the Commons yesterday to protest about a government Bill that did not exist, and cheered when told it had been withdrawn, which it had not.'

Of course we were there to demonstrate against it - because if people don't come out to say how ridiculously sexist, misogynistic, ineffective and stupid a bill proposed by an MP is, it's simply going to make it easier next time for them to pass something a little less extreme without anyone noticing. Furthermore, yesterday wasn't just about Nadine Dorries - it was also about the institutional misogyny in law, the victim blaming encouraged by our government, the cuts to sexual health services, the disproportionate cuts that affect women. I'm not sure what else we could expect from a Tory government - when a government values corporations more than citizens, it's clear that they have no respect for personal autonomy.

We also discussed this issue in our sixth form's debating society today, and for the most part, people were quite intelligent and rational about the issue. One person kept contradicting herself, saying she agreed but then completely disagreed with the points we'd previously made, and said that 'if you tell five year olds what sex is, they're going to want to experiment' - excuse me? I think most young children vaguely know what it is and primary school age children are hardly going to be the Kama Sutra.

So, abstinence is not the way forward. What really should occur is that there should be a comprehensive, fact based sex education programme that teaches it's okay to have sex when you're comfortable enough with it, and it's okay not to as well - what's important is that, if and when you do decide to have sex, you have access to enough information about issues such as pregnancy and STDs in all schools. Furthermore, there really should be more of a focus on 'consent', what an abusive relationship is like, and so on - there's an appalling amount of people in this country that encourage a victim blaming culture, instead of teaching people that when someone says no, they mean no - we need more of an emphasis on an enthusiastic, non-coerced 'yes'.

I'm terrified that there's going to be a lot of brilliant, intelligent young girls in my school who'll get sucked into the misogynistic victim blaming culture of Dorries and her cronies.


Nadine Dorries, You're Not Empowering Girls

Here are some facts about Nadine Dorries:
  • She wanted to make the abortion services in the UK run by ‘independent’ anti-abortion faith groups instead of those who run counselling services at the moment as they have a ‘financial interest’ in encouraging abortions (erm)
  • She claims that she is pro-choice but has actually said ‘if you don’t want this baby, have it anyway’.
  • She makes up statistics.
  • Her idol is Sarah Palin and she’s a big fan of ‘the Tea Party’ (never a good sign)
Nadine Dorries is a Conservative MP that has tried to diminish abortion rights in this country, and now, she’s proposing a ridiculous bill that girls (and only girls, not boys) should be taught abstinence in secondary schools. She claims that current sex education isn’t working in this country, when in fact, thanks to fact-based education, teenage pregnancy rates are beginning to fall.

Abstinence doesn’t actually work as a policy, as those who are taught it are just as likely to have sex as those who aren’t. (For example, Rick Perry introduced abstinence education into 94% of state schools in his state, with the result of Texas having the highest teen pregnancy rate.) It’s such a misogynistic bill to propose, which would be enforced in schools around the country - she claims that if abstinence was taught in schools, sexual abuse would be reduced if girls could just 'say no' which is not only utterly incorrect, but it’s also irresponsible by promoting an agenda of victim blaming and it’s extremely offensive to victims of sexual abuse. 

In addition, it forces girls to be in charge of sexual morality, as if boys lack any control over sex and girls must be the images of purity and sexual innocence. What schools should really teach is 'look, you shouldn't rush into sex until you're comfortable. That may be now, or it could be in a couple of years, but when you do, here's some information about contraceptives! And this is what an abusive relationship is like!' & so on. What abstinence education does is teach young people to feel guilt and shame, and it creates a stigma around sex that isn’t healthy to anyone, when really, schools should be teaching about the relationships around sex, access to contraception, what consent means, etc.

Here's the video of the first reading of the bill, which only narrowly passed (Chris Bryant MP, completely defeated all of her arguments):

Her bill isn't 'empowering girls' as she believes, and even if it is likely that it'll be defeated during the second reading, it's appalling that it has even reached so far. National Secular Society have a very good piece about what's wrong with this bill, and it'd be brilliant if you could write to your MP, asking them to vote against this ignorance. There's also a protest on January 20th, and if you're in London on that day, you should really think about attending.

I really don't know what else to say about the matter, it makes me feel so furious that there are ridiculous beliefs like this.