Sunday, 16 November 2014

Unite To End All Forms Of Bullying

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”.-Bishop Desmond Tutu
Bigotry is at the root of all cases of bullying. Bullying in all its forms and manifestations is wrong and has no place in a modern day society.  Research has shown a co- relation between bullying and suicide. Bully-related suicide can be connected to any type of bullying, including physical bullying, emotional bullying, cyber bullying, and sexting, or circulating suggestive or nude photos and/or messages about a person.
Sexual bullying involves comments, jokes, actions, or attention that is intended to hurt, offend, or intimidate another person.  It is more common than we think, and it affects pupils in both single sex high schools and co-educational high schools alike.
As with any form of bullying, the perpetrator seeks out that individual who is considered the weakest among the pack. Sexually bullying is no different. This form of harassment is usually seen more often in high schools as against primary schools. The focus of sexual bullying is on body parts, as well as, the victim’s appearance and or perceived sexual orientation. Boys can harass members of the opposite sex as well as members of their same sex. Girls can harass members of their same sex and even members of the opposite sex. Disturbingly, adults also sexually harass children.
Sexual orientation has to do with whom one mostly finds sexually and romantically attractive to.  A girl who gets crushes or who is sexually attracted to a member of her same sex may consider herself lesbian.
The Jamaican society continues to operate in a hypocritical and paradoxical nature regarding sexual orientation. Notwithstanding this Jamaica is still considered by the outside world as a highly homophobic society.
As a nation we have failed our young people in terms of providing good role models. The Jamaican education system has not showed the seriousness that is required to lessen the numerous instances of bullying (unreported and reported) which occur daily in our schools. Sadly many teachers and school administrators are insensitive to this torment suffered by the victims of bullying. In some instances the cases of bullying are to numerous and stretches the resources of the school. Our parenting skills in this society leave much to be desired. A significant number of our children live in dysfunctional family units.  This fact is supported by recent findings of the National Family Planning Board of Jamaica. According to its chair person, Sandra Knight “the Jamaican family is deteriorating significantly and it's a cause for great concern”.
There has been a shift in family structure over the years resulting in single family female-headed households becoming the norm. It bears thought therefore that here lies the genesis of most of the problems/issues affecting the Jamaican family today. A single mother cannot adequately supervise her children. Fathers have abandoned their parenting role in exchange for the bar, street corner, morgue and or prison. The breakdown of the concept of the extended family is quickly disappearing from the Jamaican family.  Many fathers’ names do not appear on the birth certificate of their children. The absence of our fathers in the rearing of our children especially our boys continue to add added stress on the family structure.  Our children no longer attend Sunday and or Sabbath School. The moral teachings that the church provides is therefore absent. In our schools the teaching of Religious Education is optional for students so many of our students have no moral compass from which to differentiate right from wrong. Sunday the traditional day for worship is now a day of fun and frolic in the sun.  Additionally, our crude and sexually laced popular culture namely dancehall music also adds to the destruction path we are on.  Our proximity to North America and the influx and influence of subscriber television (cable television) are all factors which have greatly contributed to the abandonment of old values and good family life practices to that of new questionable values. As we become more sophisticated and modern pornography has become more rampant in the society. Sexting” is now the norm rather than the exception for many teenagers. This is one way in which gossip, and sexually laced comments maybe spread to destroy people’s self esteem and character especially in a relatively small space such of that of a school.
Therefore we should not be surprised that our children are now experimenting with sexual diversity in this digital era we now live in. Children receive formal and informal messages about their gender identity from a multitude of sources. Some of which are, their families, their peers, their communities and of course the media. Your gender identity is who you feel as if you are on the inside (male, female, both, neither, flexible) While your gender expression has to do with how your act on the outside, that is, how you walk, talk, sit, dress, and so on. Both gender identity and gender expression impact whether one sees him/herself as more masculine than feminine or vice versa. This always impacts how other individuals see and respond to you.
A few years ago a prominent all girls schools in the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA) area had issues with older girls sexually harassing young girls. However, this is not unique to any one category of school. All our educational institutions, both co-educational and same- sex have had and continue to deal with such issues.
What can and should be done? The first line of defense against sexually bullying lies with the major stakeholder of the education system. One must ask the question is there a policy guideline regarding bullying or is it that the issue of bullying is left to individual schools to be dealt with? A sexual harassment policy or a bullying policy should be put in place to clearly inform all stakeholders that this type of behaviour is unacceptable. This policy should also outline the sanctions and penalties that will be applied if anyone decides to go ahead and bully another person. Clearly we need to address the wider issue which presents itself. Our unwillingness as a society to have a mature and frank discussion on matters pertaining to sexual orientation contributes greatly to bullying. Additionally, school administrators must become more vigilant in terms of bullying which takes place at their schools. Too many of our teachers and administrators are insensitive to the needs of those students who are being bullied. We should also encourage our children to speak out whenever they have been abused and or threatened.
There is clearly a pressing need to have ongoing workshops for teachers to remind of and expose them to the rights of all children. By so doing teachers will be better able to assist wherever the need present itself. We need a multisectoral approach to incorporate all the agencies of the state that work with children to work towards eradicating bullying in our schools. Too many of our students continue to suffer in silence.   
There is an urgent need for us to engage the stakeholders of the education more rigorously to protect our students. We need to support and strengthen our Parent Teachers Associations.
Creating classroom and bathroom messages in our schools would also assist in emphasizing that no one has the right to abuse and or invade another person space.  
We have a collective responsibility to the next generation of Jamaicans to ensure their safety and security while they are in school.  The truth is these many of our students developed predatory traits over the years due to the violent nature of the society. However, our schools must become places of zero tolerance against bullying and violence. Our schools must reclaim what they once were; a safe and protected environment for all students regardless of their differences to fully maximize their potential.
“Knowing what's right doesn't mean much unless you do what's right.”
―  US President Theodore Roosevelt 

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.