Flowers and candles are seen at a memorial site in Clapham Common Bandstand, following the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard, in London, Britain March 13, 2021.
Lesson

Responding to Violence Against Women and Gender Inequality in the UK

This lesson provides students with an opportunity to reflect on violence against women and gender inequality in the UK.

Published:

Last Updated:
This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.

At a Glance

Lesson

Language

English — UK

Grade

6–12
  • Human & Civil Rights

Overview

About This Lesson

This lesson is a guide for teachers to begin conversations with their students about violence against women, its societal causes, and the events that surround it. Such conversations are always difficult for teachers to facilitate as there are challenges to teaching sensitive material, but when we don’t address such content in the classroom, we risk normalising it.

Before you teach sensitive material in the classroom, we recommend that you connect with yourself and your own feelings, reflecting on how your identity and experiences impact how you relate to the content. It is also worth coordinating with colleagues to ensure students have space to reflect on the event, while also helping to avoid repeating the same conversations with students throughout the day.

This lesson is designed to be adaptable. You can use the activities in sequence or choose a selection best suited to your classroom. It includes:

  • 4 activities
  • Recommended articles and videos for exploring this topic 

The high profile murders of sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman in June 2020 1 , of Sarah Everard in March 2021 2 , and of Sabina Nessa in September 2021 3 (all women living in London, who had their lives ahead of them and were murdered by strangers) shed a light on the endemic nature of violence against women and highlighted the fatal impacts of gender inequality: treating women as inferior puts them at risk from those who view themselves as superior and who believe they have a right to women’s bodies and lives. Vigils, organised by Reclaim These Streets, were held to pay respect for the victims and the countless other women who have died at the hands of men, and to also demand an end to misogyny, femicide, and the harassment of women. 4 That Nessa was murdered the week before the trial of Everard’s killer, the police officer Wayne Couzens, who abused his powers to abduct, rape, and murder Everard, heightened the media attention on violence against women and the need to act to prevent further deaths.

Violence against women is a real and growing problem in the UK. According to a report by the Ministry of Justice, approximately 85,000 women are raped per year, compared to 12,000 men. 5 Women are also more likely to be victims of domestic violence: in 2018/2019, in 75% of domestic-abuse related crimes and 74% of domestic homicides, the victim was female. 6 According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of women dying in domestic homicides is on the increase. 7 And, according to the femicide census, a woman is killed every three days by a man in the UK (this includes men known to the victims and strangers). 8

The lack of mainstream media coverage that Nessa’s murder initially received, particularly when compared with that of Everard, has raised questions about racial bias in the news. 9 Nessa was of British-Bangladeshi heritage, whilst Everard was white. The discrepancy in news coverage between the two cases led to a social media campaign calling for justice. 10 This campaign used the hashtag #SayHerName, a clear nod to the Black Lives Matter movement: #SayHerName was first used to protest against police brutality and to fight for racial justice after Breonna Taylor was murdered by police in the United States in March 2020. 11 The use of the hashtag and the social media backlash drew attention to the fact that, due to Nessa’s identity as a woman of colour, her case was not initially given the attention it deserved.

As the founders of the Femicide Census Clarrie O’Callaghan and Karen Ingala Smith note, ‘There is a pattern in who is unremarked and who gets national, significant media and state attention. Inequalities of class, race, age, lifestyle and disadvantage even make a difference in death. There should be no hierarchy of dead women.’ 12 In an article naming the 81 women killed at the hands of men in the 28 weeks after Everard’s death, Karen Ingala Smith highlights why such an ‘appalling hierarchy of victims’ is problematic: ‘Each of these women will have died in terror and pain, just like Sarah. Each one leaves behind grieving friends and family for whom the loss will last a lifetime.’ 13 Activists such as Aviah Day, however, caution against viewing 'murder victims through the prism of privilege,' arguing that such a focus shifts attention away from the need to end gendered and state violence. 14

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Activities

Activities

Self-reflection is important preparation for facilitating sensitive conversations with our students. As educators, we have to process our own feelings and become aware of the way our own identities and experiences shape the perspectives we hold. 

In order to create a classroom environment that can effectively support difficult conversations, we must start by striving to model constructive civil discourse ourselves. We have to be aware of our own strongly held beliefs, political positions, emotional responses, and biases and be thoughtful about how they influence what we say and do when the headlines enter into the classroom. Remember that you are not a neutral participant in your classroom, and take ownership of the lens that you bring to the classroom community. Students may have experiences that are similar to, or different from, yours that inform their responses.

Taking time to process personal feelings on challenging issues is an important step to take before discussing such issues with your students. To assist you in this process, reflect on the following questions:

  1. What emotions do the recent events surrounding violence against women raise for you?
  2. What perspectives will you bring to your reflection on these events with your students?
  3. What can you do to ensure that students with a range of perspectives are supported in your reflection?
  4. As this story develops, how will you continue to learn alongside your students?

These ideas will help you to plan a sensitive and effective conversation with your students:

  1. Discussion around any violence against and/or murder of a woman might be triggering for some students, particularly those who have experienced street harassment, domestic violence, or sexual violence.Before you discuss a violent event like this one with your class, it may be helpful to reach out to your colleagues in order to coordinate your response as a school. Talk to other teachers in your school about how they plan to respond to this event. This can ensure that students have space to reflect on the event, while also helping to avoid repeating the same conversations with students throughout the day.

    If you have a new class, we recommend that you discuss the content of this Teaching Idea with teachers who have previously taught the students to see if they know any reasons why this topic might be difficult for any of them. It is also worth speaking to the school counsellor or safeguarding team and informing them about the discussions that will be happening. You can ask them for support or even share the list of students who are going to be doing the lesson, to avoid triggering something without there being adequate emotional support in place.

    Let students know that if the content of the Teaching Idea does impact them that they can come and talk to you or the school counsellor. You should also stress your duty to report any safeguarding issues.

  2. Consider communicating with parents and caregivers about the conversation you are planning to hold. How might you help to bridge and support connections between school conversations and those happenings in students’ lives outside of school?
  3. Ensure that students understand that, whilst this Teaching Idea focuses on violence against women, anyone regardless of their gender can be a victim of violence and sexual violence, and that LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately impacted by harassment and violence.

In the midst of traumatic and violent events, it can be beneficial to focus first on emotional processing, addressing the ‘heart’ before the ‘head.’ Give yourself and your students space to reflect on your emotional responses to the event.

  1. Let your students know that their learning environment is a safe space. Begin with a brief Contracting activity if you have not already forged that safe space in your learning environment. If you already have a classroom contract, invite your students to add to or modify it to support this conversation. Then follow with an acknowledgment of the event and its emotional impact.
  2. Consider sharing a resource from a trusted news outlet to establish baseline knowledge of the events and dispel misinformation. You might choose to share an article or a video report that explains the circumstances and timeline around a case, or you might choose something that focuses on the impact of a case on women in the UK and/or the public responses to a case. Please ensure you engage with any content beforehand and decide if it is appropriate to share with your students.
  3. Give your students an opportunity to reflect individually in their journals. Students should have the option to keep their journal reflections private. Potential journal prompts include:
    • How is the news of the past few weeks affecting you?
    • What would you like others to know about what you are thinking, feeling, and experiencing?
    • What do you need from others to understand, cope, process, and be safe as this story continues to unfold?
    • What can you offer to others to support them in how this story is impacting them?
  4. Invite students to share any reflections they wish to, but also give students the option to keep their reflections private. Possible ways to share include:
    • One-on-one or small group discussions with the teacher.
    • Small group discussions among students.
    • Excerpts from journal entries, chosen by students (shared with the teacher or in the lesson with the rest of the class).
    • A class discussion.

Share the following information concerning gender inequality and violence against women in the UK with students in a mini-lecture (you might choose to project the information in a PowerPoint).

First, share some information on gender discrimination in the workplace:

  • Gender inequality has a detrimental impact on women in the world of work in the UK. Despite accounting for 51% of the population, women are greatly under-represented in leadership roles: 1 in 2019, only 4% of CEOs in the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 combined were women (that is 14 women compared with 336 men) 2 , and currently in Parliament – the country’s seat of power – women hold just 34% of the seats. 3
  • Gender discrimination also impacts earnings – when looking at the pay of both full-time and part-time workers, women earn 17.3%, almost one fifth, less per hour than men 4 – and job stability: women have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19: they are more likely to have lost their jobs and be carrying the burden of unpaid care and domestic work 5 (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women have been especially hard hit). 6

Then discuss the following questions:

  1. What might be the consequences if women’s voices and perspectives are missing from senior roles?
  2. How might the laws the government makes be impacted by Parliament’s gender make-up?
  3. What do structural inequalities in the world of work and beyond implicitly suggest about women?
    • How and why might this impact how women are treated?

Next, share the following information about sexual harassment and violence against women:

  • Women face harassment and violence daily on account of their gender. A recent survey commissioned by UN Women UK, found that 71% of all women in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space, whilst only 3% of 18-24 year olds said that they had not. 7 The types of sexual harassment listed included groping, being cat-called, unwanted sexual advances, and indecent exposure – all in a public place.
  • The rape statistics in the UK further highlight the problematic way in which women and their bodies are treated:  according to a report by the Ministry of Justice, approximately 85,000 women are raped per year, compared to 12,000 men. 8 Women are also more likely to be victims of domestic violence: in 2018/2019, in 75% of domestic-abuse related crimes and 74% of domestic homicides, the victim was female recorded by police 9 (tragically, the number of women dying in domestic homicides is on the increase). 10 According to the femicide census, a woman is killed every three days by a man in the UK (this includes men known to the victims and strangers). 11

Then discuss the following questions:

  1. What does the prevalence of public sexual harassment and violence towards women suggest about the UK’s culture and attitude towards women?
    • How might this affect how women feel and behave?
    • Why might sexual harassment pave the way for violence?
  2. Is there anything that you found particularly surprising or troubling in the statistics you have learnt?
  3. What impact has the information shared had on how you view [insert the recent case of violence against women]?
  4. People have been working to challenge violence against women in the UK in a range of ways: The Our Streets Now campaign, for example, focuses its attention on stopping street harassment, whilst the Women’s Equality Party is a political party that campaigns for gender equality for all.
    • What do you think should be done to challenge violence against women and gender inequality in the UK? 

You might also have students synthesise what they have learned by having them create an iceberg diagram. At the top of the diagram, students can write ‘acts of violence against women.’ Next to the bottom part of the diagram (under the water), students should write their answers to these questions: 

  • What are the causes of the disproportionate amount of violence against women in the UK?
  • What does this tell us about society and the opportunities available to women in the UK?

Finally, ask students to share their diagrams. 

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