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How to Facilitate the active participation of Staff

Why to facilitate the active participation of staff:

‘Senior management has an important role to play in highlighting the importance of the issue and giving it legitimacy, [but] distributed forms of leadership in taking initiatives forward are also seen as effective.’ (Forde et al., 2006)

Committed, knowledgeable, enthusiastic and strong leadership by staff is crucial to move the agenda forward within the education institution. It is key that staff participate in the programme, particularly that senior management support the programme. However, given the significant demands on time, and the need to promote the sustainability and acceptance of these issues, a working group model has been shown to further embed the work across the organisation. Research by WOMANKIND in 2010 identified three ways of staff leading the programme:

  1. Institutional champion who is the key contact within the organisation. This person doesn’t need to be within senior management but they have to have their full support and power to make decisions. Within many organisation this person is often either the PSHE lead or the child protection lead.
  2. Working groups can be set up to support the development of the work. This could be a specific working group, or use of existing working group structures to generate ideas and share responsibility with others.
  3. ‘Critical friends’ through working with professionals from external agencies (like women’s organisations or local authority staff) can add crucial support to the staff. They may have expertise they can share, provide a sounding board for developing ideas and act as a ‘critical friend’, and may be able to implement or support some of the programmes of work.

How to develop staff leadership to end Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG):

Often it is the passionate work of one individual champion in an organization who initiates the programme, they may already have an understanding of gender inequality and, most importantly, a clearly articulated passion to end Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). Often that leader will work in partnership with outside agencies to develop a project. But, to ensure the sustainability and reach of the programme, it is important that other staff are engaged to take action

The commitment and leadership from the senior management team within an organisaton is central to increasing the impact of a programme to raise awareness of gender inequality and challenge Violence Against Women and Girls. The Senior Management engagement will ensure that work is prioritized across the organization.

Staff across the organization need to be engaged and motivated to work to end Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). This can be achieved through delivering training programmes, regular updates in staff meetings, adding actions to work plans, campaigning, listening to the views of children and young people participating, or assemblies.

It is always important to remember that some members of staff will be experiencing or have experienced Violence Against Women and Girls, or they may be perpetrators. Ensure that there is a staff policy on Violence Against Women and Girls and that staff know where to go for if they want support.

Research by WOMANKIND in 2010 identified ways in which five schools managed the development of their work, and led to the identification of two main ways in which an organisation could set about that work. These were:

  • The organisation VAWG lead might develop and review the work through the support of a working group (newly established for the purpose or a currently existing group), with responsibility for action delegated to members of this group.
  • The organisation VAWG lead might manage a number of staff who would be called on to support the development of work on gender equality and challenging Violence Against Women and Girls.

Case Study: The Equality Working Group (Womankind 2010)

The Equality Working Group was established in a school that was part of research for WOMANKIND Worldwide into the development of a whole-school approach into ending violence against women and girls in 2009. It held eight meetings in 2009, and was integrated into the formal school structure reporting directly to the senior management team. Members of staff volunteered to join the group. The members of the group appeared to be highly committed to work on promoting gender equality and challenging violence against women and girls, and several new members joined since its inception (particularly following the working group-led INSET training session in September 2009). What is striking is the range of staff, including those further down the ‘hierarchy’ of the school who felt positive about being part of the group and were motivated to improve the experience of staff and pupils in the school. The working group participated in basic domestic violence awareness-raising training, as well as creating a space to debate relevant issues — such as issues arising out of a screening of a BBC Panorama programme on sexual bullying or the WOMANKIND- commissioned research team’s informal report to the school following the first and second research visits. One of the main ‘actions’ developed by the working group was a one-hour awareness-raising session on sexual bullying within the school. During this session, the results of a small research study undertaken by the school lead were presented and staff were asked to discuss in small groups various sexual bullying scenarios.

The group worked alongside the ‘Respect’ subgroup of the school council, so staff and pupil views and efforts were brought together to promote (gender) equality and challenge violence. After having completed the school Gender Equality Scheme, they focused on other equality issues, including homophobia.

Signs of impact:

A number of school staff commented that the working group-led session had had an impact — ‘it did rattle people’, ‘the head was shocked’, ‘the session stimulated great discussion… brought to the forefront of our minds a lot of issues and made it safer to discuss things — equality issues and gender’.

Members of the working group explained that their own understanding of the issues had changed: ‘The way we use language — I didn’t realise how this can influence attitudes. The word “gay” for instance. I wouldn’t have challenged this before if I hadn’t been in the Equality Working Group. I would have seen it as stupidity, a difference in maturity.’

The collaborative nature of the working group format was felt to be important in increasing its sustainability, creating a greater call for change, and increasing the probability that discriminatory attitudes and behaviours would be more often and consistently challenged.

Reflections/lessons learned:

Initially, the working group had called itself the WOMANKIND working group (as it was established as part of the school’s engagement with the WOMANKIND programme). Over the course of the first academic year, the original name of the working group created tensions. During the training session, a lot of time and energy was devoted to discussing why the group was called WOMANKIND rather than ‘Mankind’ or ‘Humankind’. The name appeared to suggest to others that the group was concerned solely with ‘women’s issues’. As one member reported, a colleague dismissed the group as a sort of feminist support group saying, ‘do you burn bras there?’. The group changed its name to the Equality Working Group. This name change might support its sustainability beyond the lifetime of the school’s involvement in the programme.

The working group initially wished to focus almost entirely on issues for women and girls. While many would argue that such a focus is appropriate (given that women and girls disproportionately experience sexual bullying, sexual violence and intimate partner violence), many experts argue that the pressures young men experience to conform to very specific norms of masculinity need to be addressed too — not only in their own right, but in tandem, if progress is to be made towards improved, more respectful, healthier relationships between men and women.

Over time the working group realised the need to identify other school priorities with which its work fitted, so that it could make a clearer case for its value to the broader school community, especially to those members who are not ‘convinced’ by the need to focus on gender as an issue.

Additionally, the group began to work towards the development of a clearly defined set of objectives for which it could be held accountable.

The role of practitioners in facilitating participation with young people

Research [1] has shown that “practitioners are much more likely than clients to believe that their work is participative” and the role of the workers journey in achieving meaningful participation was evident in AVA’s research. There are understandable challenges to undertaking this work, including frustrations from services who are under increasing pressure from funders and commissioners to show that they have involved service users in service design and delivery. True participation requires skilled and confident workers and appropriate time and resources. Current funding cuts to specialist services and increased referrals for young people affected by abuse and trauma increase the pressures that practitioners are under.

However, participation can have huge benefits, not just to the young people involved but also to practitioners and the services they represent.

The key roles of practitioners should include:

  • Being an advocate for young people’s right to participate
  • Supporting young people in active participation and decision making
  • Challenging views that undermine young people’s involvement
  • Being a positive role model
  • Creating a safe space for young people who have experienced abuse to participate safely
  • An ability to assess risk and readiness
  • A willingness to hand over ‘power’ to young people
  • An opportunity to reflect on their own practice and be open to change

Benefits to Practitioners, Services and Society

  • Gain new perspectives and fresh ideas
  • Additional data to help improve services
  • Provides understanding about the reality of their experiences
  • Greater acceptance of messages and policies as children and young people were actively involved in developing them
  • Enhanced credibility of the service
  • Better informed about issues, views and priorities of children and young people
  • Better able to address the needs of children and young people
  • Helps to make society more democratic

[1] Katz, I. (1995) ‘Approaches to Empowerment and Participation in Child Protection’, in C. Cloke and M. Davies (eds.) Participation and Empowerment in Child Protection, London: Pitman Publishing.