24/01/2012

'JUST SAY NO' to the Sexist Abstinence Education Bill

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The bill was withdrawn, but not without some controversy about how it actually occurred.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outside the Commons yesterday to protest about a government Bill that did not exist, and cheered when told it had been withdrawn, which it had not.'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.

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