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Compulsory SRE Is A Massive Step Forward For Gender Equality

03/03/2017 16:51 GMT | Updated 03/03/2017 16:52 GMT
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all women everywhere

As I approach the final weeks of Year 13 and struggle through the last push for A-levels, my friends and I have been reflecting on our years at my school with a deep sense of nostalgia. We're grateful to our teachers and classmates, for the memories and opportunities.

Something else we should be thankful for, but which often skips our minds, is the standard of Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) we've received. It can seem a bit weird to show gratitude for the awkward biology videos and the demonstrations of applying condoms by embarrassed teachers, but it's something that we've probably taken for granted.

Fortunately, I've been taught about a range of topics from contraception to healthy and equal relationships which I know has been a massive privilege that's prepared me well for the future.

However, high quality SRE should not be a privilege. It should be a right to ensure that every young person can make safe and responsible decisions about their own bodies and lives and respect and care for others in equal relationships.

I know other students who've not been fully-informed about STDs, not been told about the options they have if they become pregnant and who see controlling and manipulative behaviours from partners as 'normal.' High quality SRE seems to be a luxury only available to young people by the grace of switched-on school leaders and that is like treating autonomy over our health and wellbeing as a luxury.

As the leading charity for girls and young women in the UK, Girlguiding amplifies the voices of young women. I am part of the Girlguiding Advocate Panel, a group of young women aged 14-25, who campaign for the rights of young women in the UK. Since 2014, we have been calling for high quality SRE as part of Girls Matter, our campaign to get girls and young women's voices heard by those in power on the issues that matter to them.

Girlguiding's annual Girls' Attitudes Survey collects the views of thousands of young women, aged 7 to 21, across the UK and provides evidence for what young people actually care about.

Only 49% of girls aged 11 to 16 say they are taught what consent means - even though 84% of girls feel that education on this subject is vital. Our research also showed how three quarters of girls (74%) aged 11 to 21 want SRE to be taught in schools.

The news then from Justine Greening that Sex and Relationships Education will be made compulsory for all schools across England is obviously brilliant to hear.

In her statement, Greening said that "The statutory guidance for sex and relationships education was introduced in 2000 and is becoming increasingly outdated. It fails to address risks to children that have grown in prevalence over the last 17 years, including cyber bullying, 'sexting' and staying safe online."

It was a comfort to hear that the redundant nature of the previous policy will be addressed and it gives me hope that younger pupils will receive better- because frankly, they deserve better.

All of us on the Girlguiding Advocate Panel were ecstatic when we found out about the Government's decision, mainly because it demonstrated how those leading the country had actually listened to young people and had finally acted on what we had to say. It proves that campaigning works and that when girls speak out together they have the power to make positive change happen.

However, we're not going to quieten down now. We need to make sure the education students receive is up to date. We need to ensure our Government continues to listen to young people, especially now in terms of the content of mandatory SRE. And we need to continue to call on the devolved administrations to make sure SRE is up to scratch in every school right across the UK, not only in England.

We want to make sure this education policy is enforced effectively with age-appropriate lessons and a curriculum that includes consent, tackling violence against women and girls, online abuse, gender equality and LGBTQ topics, and healthy relationships.

This new policy is a reassuring step in the right direction though and I'm excited to think that my positive SRE experience will no longer be a privilege, but will be a right for the next generation of students.

Charlotte Forrester, 17, is a member of the Girlguiding Advocate Panel made up of 18 young women aged 14 to 25. They meet throughout the year to talk about issues that are important to them, such as body confidence, representation of girls and women in the media, access to better sex and relationships education and role models for girls

HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today

Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com