Last December, there was a rather active and, above all, very necessary debate on harassment and bullying and discriminatory gendered structures in student culture. One of the speakers at this year’s SYL kick off seminar, Ombudsman for Equality Jukka Maarianvaara, stated that “harassment is the use of power to show someone else their place in life”.
In January, the Ministry of Education and Culture published an action plan to prevent bullying, violence and harassment. It is encouraging that the programme provides procedures covering all stages from early childhood education to university. I particularly value the fact that, with regard to early childhood education, the action plan pays special attention to strengthening children’s emotional and interpersonal skills. This could have a far-reaching impact on many gendered phenomena.
According to studies (including “Gender Stereotypes in Early Childhood A Literature Review” by the Fawcett Society, 2019), the effects of strict and inflexible gender norms include the perpetuation of poor literacy among boys, low self-esteem among girls, gendered career choices that narrow in later life, high suicide rates among men, and violence against women. The articulation and systematic dismantling of socially produced and maintained harmful norms are key tools in eradicating various forms of violence, such as bullying and harassment.
With regard to higher education, the Ministry of Education and Culture’s action plan states that anti-harassment liaison activities will be strengthened in cooperation with SYL, SAMOK and the universities. Anti-harassment measures will also be included in the higher education accessibility plan to be completed this year. The Alliance is also preparing a comprehensive guide to harassment situations in youth organisations, which will list tangible anti-bullying measures for communities and individuals.
This is an extremely important signal that ministries have a special commitment to supporting and developing anti-harassment liaison activities. For example, anti-harassment liaison activities in student unions involve psychosocially stressful community work done with scant resources and often under conflicting pressures. Anti-harassment liaison officers must both investigate acute cases of harassment and carry out preventive work against bullying, harassment and other forms of violence, in order to strengthen student communities and support the creation of safe spaces within them.
Universities and the entire student union movement need clear policies on how to prevent and address various forms of structural and everyday violence. It is crucial that harassment, bullying and discrimination are discussed more directly, and that active and concrete measures are taken to eradicate them. Discussion of violence is often left to those who are most vulnerable to begin with, and who are facing violence themselves. Policymakers and other influential people must now ensure that, as a society, we take systematic steps to break down the current culture of violence.
Social Policy Adviser