A year since the consent campaign changed the school curriculum
This month, all education ministers unanimously agreed to strengthen the content of the national curriculum on sex, consent and relationships. It won’t be written until April, but Contos and those close to his campaign celebrated the feat on his one-year anniversary last week.
Specialist researcher Katrina Marson says it was a clear victory for young people but it would only be the start. “That’s not the end goal… We can’t just put consent a little more on the agenda and say ‘job done’,” she says.
Teachers need training to teach effectively, and parents also need to feel comfortable carrying on conversations at home. The new amendments could take until 2024 to be implemented.
That means it could take years to see if the major demand from the more than 44,000 young people who signed Contos’ petition leads to the behavioral change they demanded.
“Cultural change is slow,” says Julie Townsend, who as headmistress of the eastern suburbs St Catherine’s School for Girls was one of the first educators to answer Contos’ call. last year. “But I think young women have now found a stronger voice. And they make people listen in a way that wasn’t necessarily the case before.
Perhaps this will be the legacy of Contos’ petition: what it meant for those who relived trauma from their teenage years to write their stories for the first time or to feel validated by a shared experience.
“We have not returned to where we were before, absolutely not. Our daughters talk more about things that are wrong. They felt wasted or marginalized and they have the courage to move past those feelings now,” says Townsend.
Contos may strike the program changes off her list of demands, but she also thinks the public conversation has been an end in itself. “It was the sharing of messages that started conversations, that started it all,” she says.
It may be a decade before we can judge whether the actions of our leaders over the past year are a sufficient response to such a rare collective outpouring of trauma.
But the sense of solidarity, courage or strength that many young women gained from that moment – although impossible to measure – could be its greatest achievement.
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