Staff affected by gender-based violence
Given what we know about how widespread many forms of gender-based violence are, it is good practice to assume there will be survivors of gender-based violence within the school staff team.
Staff may be affected in a number of ways; they may have experienced a form of gender-based violence in the past, or they may be living with a current situation for example in relation to domestic abuse, stalking, sexual violence or honour based violence.
Staff may also experience gender-based violence in the workplace itself– whether perpetrated by other staff members, students or perhaps parents, carers or other members of the community – online or in person. There is some research which into prevalence and nature of this violence:
- Teachers taking part in focus groups for EIS Get it Right for Girls research reported that women staff as well as female students were subjected casual though often vindictive use of overtly sexualised and derogatory language - ‘slut’, skank’ and ‘whore’ were widely used against girls or women staff and contemptuous attitudes, which were sometimes accepted or endorsed by male staff. (EIS, 2016) EIS (2016), Get It Right for Girls
- Research into women’s experiences in the workplace in general shows that just over half had experienced some form of sexual harassment, and just under a quarter had experienced some kind of unwanted sexual touching (TUC, 2016) TUC (2016) Still just a bit of banter? Sexual harassment in the workplace in 2016
- The figure is higher for disabled women; 68% of those surveyed said they had been sexually harassed at work. (TUC, 2021) TUC (2021) Sexual harassment of disabled women in the workplace
As well as their own experiences, staff may also be affected by gender-based violence perpetrated against a family member, partner or friend.
What school leaders can do
Support for staff
Here are some key steps schools can take to support staff affected by gender-based violence in the workplace:
- Acknowledge that staff may be affected by gender-based violence, including in the workplace, and ensuring they have access to information about support services (for example displaying information in staff rooms and bathroom facilities) and know how to report any workplace issues to the school
- Ensure that the school is equipped to handle any reports of gender-based violence affecting staff.
- Ensure that sexual harassment and gender-discriminatory attitudes towards staff are always challenged
- Ensure that staff who deal with gender-based violence in the course of their work – whether routinely or on a one-off basis – can access advice so that they are confident about how to handle such issues, as well as emotional support.
- Recognise that staff affected by past or current experiences of gender-based violence may require measures to support them – for example in relation to any current safety concerns or mental health and wellbeing issues. It’s important to work together with staff to decide what measures may be of help, as a supportive and empowering approach is most likely to promote safety and recovery.
- In cases where it may be appropriate to involve the police, discuss this with the staff member in advance so that they can make an informed choice (unless there is risk of immediate harm). They may wish to contact support services for further information about reporting and for access to support and advocacy services.
Schools can also consult their local authority's gender-based violence policy (or domestic abuse policy) for guidance on employment practices and support for survivors.
Considerations about ESAS
As schools engage with ESAS it’s important to think about how this work might affect staff who have personal experience of it. In general, we know that survivors of gender-based violence often welcome proactive measures that organisations and workplaces take to tackle the issues as this recognises and validates their experience, and demonstrates a commitment to preventing violence and supporting those affected. However it’s important to recognise that talking about gender-based violence can bring up difficult feelings and memories for those with personal experience and the following steps can be taken to help staff affected to feel more comfortable engaging in the work:
- Informing all staff of inputs and training sessions ahead of them taking place, acknowledging the potential impact on staff affected and reminding staff of support options.
- Allowing staff to determine their own engagement with the work, for example by enabling them to take breaks whenever they require during training sessions and inviting staff to volunteer to take forward work, rather than appointing them.
- Signposting to support services when communicating with staff about ESAS.
- Outlining what steps a member of staff could take if they have any concerns about engaging with ESAS work.
The Public Sector Equality duty
Schools have a duty the 2010 Equality Act, under which sex is a protected characteristic, to take measures to promote women’s equality – as follows:
- a) Eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under the Equality Act 2010;
- b) Advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it;
- c) Foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.
The Scottish-specific duties
As individual listed bodies, local education authorities are required by the Scottish-specific duties under the Act as employers and as service providers to publish a mainstreaming report and to set equality outcomes, and as employers to publish their gender pay gap and occupational segregation information in line with reporting schedules.
Local authorities can draw on schools’ progress to tackle gender equality and gender-based violence to help demonstrate their progress under the Duties – which may include:
- addressing manifestations of gender inequality in their staff environment and structures, for example looking at gender balance in senior roles, and the impact of gendered norms and expectations affecting male and female teachers.
- Using ESAS tools and the Improving Gender Balance and Equalities resources as a tangible means of mainstreaming gender equality across all school systems and structures, and achieving demonstrable outcomes (such as improved staff capacity and capability, competent policies, strengthened curriculum, greater pupil voice in relation to gender inequality.)
Equally Safe at Work Accreditation programme
Close the Gap has developed an Employer Accreditation to support employers to improve their employment practice to advance gender equality at work, and prevent violence against women, called Equally Safe at Work. This includes a range of useful resources including Guidance for Line Managers on violence against women and work.
If you have been affected by any form of gender-based violence – whether it’s something recent, something that’s happening now, or something in the past, there is a range of support available to you. You can find information about services including emotional support, practical support and legal advice here.
Staff can also contact their trade union for support if they experience sexual harassment at work. The EIS has produced this advice for members on bullying & harassment.
If your school is engaging with ESAS
For staff who have been directly affected by any of the issues ESAS deals with, it is likely to have a much more personal significance. We hope staff will welcome their school doing more to address gender-based violence, but it might also be challenging at times, for example they may not usually discuss these issues in the context of their professional role, or they may encounter attitudes and beliefs that are difficult to hear.
It's important that staff have options about how far they may or may not wish to be involved in any work relating to gender-based violence. Advice to school leaders (above) encourages them to give staff advance notice of any relevant activities, and to take a flexible approach to staff engagement so that staff can determine how far they want to be involved. In some cases staff may wish to speak to a colleague or manager so they can discuss any specific needs or considerations, though this is a personal decision.
If there is any further information or resources you think would be helpful for staff, please feel welcome to contact us with any suggestions.