Doctoral Researcher at NUI Galway School of Psychology and Consent Programme facilitator Elaine Byrnes has welcomed the move by Education Minister Richard Bruton to review Relationship and Sexual Education (RSE) in Irish second-level schools.
Ms Byrnes told SIN her experience piloting a six-week module to TY students in colleague Richie Sadlier’s alma mater has indicated that this shake-up must go beyond a mere review of the current approach to RSE for teens.
“We need to overhaul RSE as it is delivered now. What Richie and I are doing is piloting a six-week programme in his alma mater. That goes far beyond what is currently offered by RSE and for us the feedback on that has been really positive … both from the boys and their parents, and from the school,” she explained.
Ms Byrnes expressed that she thought it would be a “challenge” to expect teachers to deliver such RSE modules in schools and that in her experience, the relationship between facilitator and students is very different to the teacher relationship.
She outlined how challenging traditional gender roles is significant in the conversation on consent, saying there appears to still be an attitude that the onus is on males to get consent while females are perceived as the “gatekeeper” or more passive.
Ms Byrnes emphasised that consent is mutual, with respect being of paramount importance.
“For me, consent is mutual and bidirectional and that is something that surprises people when you say it to them because we are so societally attuned to that traditional script where males are perceived as predatory and females perceived as passive – and it is 2018, how are we still adhering to those traditional scripts or traditional gender roles?” she said.
“That is what we challenge, and we instil in the boys that all communication of consent reflects is respect, respect for ourselves and respect for others, and respect for our boundaries and understanding and identifying someone else’s boundaries and respecting those.”
Ms Byrnes explained that this programme was not tailored to boys and said she would be having the same conversation about consent with girls if she was in a girls’ school.
“It transcends gender, it transcends sexual orientation, it transcends identity, it is not a gendered issue. How I would approach a sexual health module in a girls’ school would be exactly the same as I approach it in the boys’ school, we just happen to be piloting it in this one school at the moment,” she said.
“It is very interactive and peer-lead,” she added.
Meanwhile, she indicated that the introduction of a new approach to RSE at second-level should not negate the necessity for such courses at third-level.
“We could look at third-level consent workshops as a refresher for what people have done at second-level,” she said.
By Sorcha O’Connor