I celebrate international, global, feminist research and activism to provide a manifesto for the future in my book A Feminist Manifesto for Education. European Union (EU) funded research through the Daphne programme about violence against women and girls (VAWG) provide the basis for my argument of the need for a more respectful and gender-sensitive education. This education would also attend to arguments about the increasing sexualisation of society through hyper capitalism and the rampant individualism of neo-liberalism.
In the light of the referendum result for rather than against British Exit (BREXIT) from the EU and the speedy ‘selection’ of Theresa May as the leader of the UK Conservative party and second female prime minister, this may appear as anachronistic. It is not.
I argue about the importance of the EU for enabling a broad socio-political agenda for civil, human and social rights, including for women. I also demonstrate that arguments about gender balance that are being touted today, with Theresa May appointing a strong gender balance to her government, are necessary but not sufficient. They will not achieve feminist goals of transforming gender norms and sexual relations in society and dealing with VAWG and gender-related violence (GRV).
By way of context, I review the development of several strands of educational and social research and activism on gender and gender-related violence. I argue that feminist activism has a long and international pedigree. The EU and the United Nations (UN) provide substantial support for the development of equal rights for women, alongside civil and human rights, over a seventy-year period.
I consider the interplay between socio-political and legal arguments and the emergence of global feminism and campaigning. The UK, by contrast, has had a much greater struggle to embed even a neo-liberal approach to women’s or gender equality.
I also illustrate the development of the social sciences intertwined with feminist arguments about gender equality. Here I refer especially to the UNESCO report and ‘Atlas on Gender Equality in Education’ (2012). This provides a vast array of international and global statistics about ‘gender parity’. I argue that the neo-liberal movement towards providing such league tables is a form of ‘misogyny masquerading as metrics’.
I then present my study on education feminists in academia, showing how empowering feminism has become through the knowledge developed in and outside the university. I look at three generations or waves of feminists, entering higher education at different stages of its expansion. I focus especially on those feminists who are involved with teacher education and educational research by way of a case study.
I argue that there has been a complex interrelation between the developments of higher education, the social sciences and feminist studies. These have had a strong ‘class effect’ with increasing professionalization of gender and women’s studies and their embedding within new forms of neo-liberal higher education.
Second I present my collaborative feminist research with colleagues in Ireland, Italy, Spain and the UK on training professionals and practitioners to recognise and challenge gender-related violence (GRV) for children and young people. Our concern was to develop a complex critique of ‘gender norms’ and issues of lesbianism, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersexual (LGBTQi) within schools and other educational contexts. I compare and contrast the ‘Latin countries’ (Italy and Spain) with the Anglo-centric approaches of Ireland and the UK.
Arguably, feminist educational strategies have begun to have a stronger presence within both school-based and higher education in both Italy and Spain than in the Ireland and the UK. This is particularly the case with respect to the growth of an array of community and social groups working with women and other so-called ‘victims’.
I conclude with arguing for the various social activist projects that build upon feminist and social scientific knowledge and evidence about gender norms and sexualisation. Whilst education about sexual consent, bullying and abusive relationships, including rape, is not the only panacea, it is vitally important for our socially inclusive society to have this on the agenda of all schools and universities today. This vigorously opposed by the UK Conservative government: it is unlikely to be transformed by Theresa May and her new government of so-called liberal conservatives, despite a better gender balance.
Education about sexuality, sexual harassment, bullying and violence remains vital for the future of a more inclusive and diverse society. It could deal with the toxic misogyny, racism and xenophobia that has been unleashed in the aftermath of BREXIT.
Miriam E. David is Emeritus Professor at the UCL Institute of Education. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and the Academy of Social Sciences.