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So What? …. But What If!: Women’s Safety Reunite Panel Highlights

Updated: Aug 8, 2023



At the time of streaming this event, in November 2022, it had been one year since the ‘So What? … But What If!’ campaign launched, providing an excellent opportunity to reflect on the campaign. We were thrilled to have invited back some of our key contributors for our penultimate panel event, all of whom are all working within organisations that promote gender-based approaches to safety and have run campaigns of their own around this issue in the past year. This blog will be exploring the successes of each of the campaigns as well as the areas that the panellists have highlighted as requiring many more resources and much more attention in order to be fully tackled.


Our panel included:

Marianne and Danielle, outreach workers for the Enough campaign at Glasgow Women’s Aid

Kim Flower, of women’s empowerment social enterprise Gilded Lily

Lindsay Mullen from Stop It Now, a charity aimed at preventing child sexual abuse

And our hosts Heather Offord, director of One4Growth;

Ashley Scotland, CEO of Thriving Survivors;

and Laura Maginess, CEO of Glasglow Girls Club


Successes one year on


Danielle, working on the Enough campaign, highlighted that it has been a successful year for them as there has been a real shift in focus to prevention of gender-based violence. She explained that: ‘We began working with boys in school, which was great, because it can be quite hard to get boys to engage. We’ve had some really, really lovely opportunities to get in and speak to young people about gender-based violence, and get that prevention work off the ground’ (18:22-34). Prevention is a topic that has come up again and again with the So What campaign, so it was fantastic to hear that it has become even more of a focus, and that education for boys is being taken seriously.


Meanwhile, Lindsay has worked on the Rosa Project in Glasgow, which ran for three years and has just ended. She shared the project’s successes: ‘That was about helping young people who had gotten into trouble online, so that might have been peer-to-peer sharing of images, it might have been about downloading illegal images, it might have been about harmful sexual behaviour that’s been perpetrated or that young people have been a victim of online. So we’ve worked with just over seventy young people in that project, which was fantastic’ (21:12-39). The approach that also targets potential perpetrators was a key issue for Jeremy Indika, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, who spoke on the So What online grooming panel event. To see that put into action represents a real paradigm shift for those working in the prevention of sexual harm, with a more holistic approach that helps potential perpetrators as well as survivors.


For Kim, her success has been that she has recently received two years’ funding for her ‘She’ campaign, which is aimed at teenage girls to give them a safe space to talk about gender-based issues around safety and autonomy. She reported that: ‘I would say the biggest win for us was firstly, as you know, I’ve got two teenage girls myself, and teenagers are a difficult one to really hook into a programme, and I was a bit nervous [...] but the sign-ups we got - we only had ten spaces; I had thirty on a waiting list - so actually showing me [...] the demand was there’ (24:20-51). That teenagers are more willing to open up about these issues demonstrates that solutions do not have to be arduously implemented, but can be spoken about with relative ease, given that a safe space is properly established.


Ashley, who spoke on the So What campaign itself, noted some of its successes from her perspective: ‘This campaign has really allowed us to explore some of these more controversial topics and difficult topics in a way that has brought other people on a journey with us’ (38:16-27). In particular, she cited the men’s panel and the LGBTQIA+ panel as examples of where she learnt about others’ experiences and vice versa.


Laura, like others on the panel, expressed how the So What campaign had really opened her eyes to LGBTQIA+ experiences, as well as having an impact on her interpersonal relationships and beyond: ‘All of these panels events have led to real growth in myself, and things I hadn’t considered because it’s not my lived experience. [...] Conversations have been a catalyst for change. Conversations like this have led me to go and have a conversation with my parents, with my daughter, with my friends, and they’re learning from the conversations I’ve taken away from, and it’s a snowball effect’ (45:05-51).


Heather, with a young daughter of her own, felt she learnt the most from the So What online safety panel, where she discovered that online parental controls are simply not effective, and that conversations with your kid(s) are far more useful. She discovered: ‘Is it such a bad thing if they see some porn or they see other things if they know the right way to act and react and if they know what is right or wrong?’ (55:50-56:02). While difficult to admit to herself, as it felt as if her parenting skills had been called into question, she nonetheless understood it was an important lesson to learn for her daughter’s safety.


Issues which need more attention


Of course, while successes are to be celebrated, our panellists still had much to say regarding these issues, and where improvements still need to be made. Lindsay highlighted that: ‘One of the key things that kept popping out of [the Rosa project] was that there was a real vulnerability about young people who are on the SD spectrum and who have learning difficulties, or young people on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, so especially young males exploring their sexuality, who are then exploited or groomed online, so that really stood out - not as a surprise - but as an area where we need to move forward for young people’ (21:41-22:12). Clearly, specialised resources for SD and LGBTQIA+ youth are yet to be developed and implemented on a wide scale.


While Kim noted that it was great to have opened up a space for teenage girls to talk about these issues through the She campaign, the conversations they had revealed that there remained structural issues, especially in schools: ‘The feedback from the girls is: “A lot of the time, we’re not heard in school, we’re just a hassle.” They [the school] don’t really want to get involved when it’s to do with relationships or breakdown in communication with friends, and really that has to be embedded into the curriculum, and not as a one-off workshop’ (25:57-26:15). Ongoing education is a requirement to resolve these issues, otherwise one-off workshops risk becoming a forgettable simple box-ticking exercise for institutions.


Danielle agreed, noting that trauma-informed training needs a wider reach and ongoing implementation. She also noted that the problem continues to lie with: ‘The underlying gender stereotypes, gender norms, those social norms, [and] one workshop - like you were saying Kim - is not enough to break those down [...] they’re really rooted, and it should be a part of the curriculum, and I’ve spoken with trainers, and [they recommend] getting parents involved because those things are formed at home’ (27:38-58). Parental involvement is an issue that the So What campaign raised, but it’s clear there is a way to go before this will be implemented, despite its necessity.


For Lindsay, preventing childhood sexual abuse remains an uphill battle: ‘The problem of child sexual abuse is global [...] We need to be doing much, much more to prevent it. More and more young people are getting into trouble online, or causing harmful sexual behaviour [...]. We need to be working much harder so that young people have a much better understanding of the laws in Scotland, and what’s okay, and what’s not okay, and that stuff about boundaries: the way to behave online [... because] young people are not aware of where the boundaries are’ (30:50-31:49). While young people are in the dark around these issues, it’s clear that abuse will continue.



Conclusions


Thanks to the collective work of our panellists and hosts, there is much to be grateful for and proud of one year on. That said, we are far from living in a perfect world when it comes to gender-based violence. The beginnings of positive changes are being implemented and can be felt, particularly in the opening up of conversations that we might not have had before. But ultimately, much more needs to be done, and especially for those who are most vulnerable. Thank you so much to our panellists for their time and contributions, and we’ll see you next time for our final panel event.

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