Australia/March 19, 2021/ By Wing Kuang and Samuel Yang/Source: https://www.abc.net.au/
Zhen Liang desperately wants to talk to her Australian-born teenage daughter about consent before she graduates from high school, but she doesn’t even know where to start.
The 55-year-old Melbourne mum said she grew up in a traditional Chinese family where her parents rarely ever talked about sex, and she wasn’t taught about consent.
She tried to educate herself by attending community workshops, consulting with mental health services and reading parenting columns in both English and Chinese, so she could talk to her 17-year-old daughter about it.
But she said none of those channels had what she was looking for.
“I feel that I only have 10 to 20 per cent of the information I need,” said Ms Liang, who emigrated to Australia about 20 years ago.
In late February, Chanel Contos, a former private girl school student in a Sydney eastern suburb, launched a petition calling for earlier education on sex and consent and reform of the sex education curriculum.
It has now reached over 35,000 signatures, with more than 3,400 testimonies from schoolgirls about their experiences of sexual assault, sparking a national call for including consent as part of the sex education curriculum.
This week, thousands took to the streets around Australia to protest against sexism and gendered violence, following the Brittany Higgins rape allegation and inspired by sexual abuse survivor and Australian of the Year Grace Tame.
While many parents find sex an awkward topic, families from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities say they are facing extra challenges.
“We also face many big challenges, especially with getting used to Australian customs and the Australian way of life.
“There is a lot for us to get used to, for example, this concept of sexual education.”
‘Huge lack of resources’
Ms Liang said she was willing to adapt and talk about consent, but she didn’t understand most of the resources, which were in English.
“I don’t think some of the English terms [about sexual consent] make a lot of sense to Chinese people,” she said.
“It would be much better if we can have resources available in Chinese as well.”
Summer Xia, who considers herself an open-minded parent, recently found that despite having chats with her 15-year-old daughter about sex, her daughter wished they had had more conversations in the past.
The 47-year-old Chinese mother from Melbourne said she was worried her daughter would turn to the internet to seek relevant information.
“There might be issues with identifying appropriate information on the internet for her – what is good information and what is not – so I felt that I had indeed neglected my duties in this respect,” she said.
She wanted to be able to answer more of her daughter’s questions, but also believed there was “a huge lack of resources” for migrant parents.
“We need to really introduce the Chinese community to this part of the education system.”
Ms Xia hopes schools can offer workshops and guidance for parents to better communicate with their children who sometimes distance themselves from their parents as they reach adolescence.
She also hopes the government can do more to promote sex education in CALD communities and reach out to parents and young people.
The ABC asked Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge if new in-language material on consent would be made available.
A spokesperson from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment responded, telling the ABC that there is existing content available in different languages.
“Respectful relationships resources for students and families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are already available in a number of different languages on the Student Wellbeing Hub,” the spokesperson said.
‘A very sensitive space’
Experts say in addition to providing more in-language materials to help parents, the resources also need to be tailored to different communities.
Dr Fida Sanjakdar, a senior lecturer and researcher of sex education for Muslim youth at Monash University, said many Muslim parents felt uneasy about sex education.
“It’s still a very sensitive space, almost a taboo,” she told the ABC.
“I think misunderstanding occurs because people don’t include context in this discussion, usually it’s just discussing in binary terms … how to say yes, how to say no.”
Dr Sanjakdar said discussions about sex and consent needed to be addressed within appropriate cultural and religious contexts.
She said, for instance, different cultures could have different interpretations of adulthood, which could impact on their understanding of sexual consent.
“In some cultures, people don’t move from childhood to adolescence and adulthood, people move straight from childhood to adulthood,” she said.
“So this period of adolescence, in which this sexuality education discourse is predominantly found, is just not relevant.
“With this in mind, we can start to appreciate that consent is not just an autonomous or an individual act, but it’s coupled with other issues of responsibility.”
However, Dr Sanjakdar said Muslim parents tended to be more onboard when their voices were heard.
“Once the curriculum becomes transparent, and parents are involved in the decision-making process, you’ll see that a lot of their anxiety is slowly eased,” she said.
Dr Sanjakdar said it was a “welcome conversation”, but it needed to address the issue and be tailored to the community, “so that it resonates with the Muslim lived experience”.
‘We’re ticking boxes in consent education’
In Australia, all states and territories address sex education under the Heath and Physical Education section in the national curriculum.
But schools can choose how to interpret the curriculum, what topics to address and how much detail they offer.
For some young people in families where sex and consent are rarely discussed, education provided at school is far from enough.
University graduate Andrew Tan, 21, said he received sex education when he was in high school, but it only covered reproductive science and safe sex.
He said he only started “formally” learning about the idea of consent in Year 11, when he read about the Stanford swimmer Brock Turner’s rape case.
“If I have a son, I would wish I could explain consent better to him,” he told the ABC.
Lauren French, a senior educator at non-profit Body Safety Australia, which offers training to schools and parents, said sex education can sometimes be “tokenistic”.
“The way curriculums are written and the way that people can teach things is that they can kind of get around the tricky topics, the hard bits, which is actually detrimental to the child, because it means that they’re not getting access to consistent consent education.”
She said some schools would explicitly tell her or imply that certain groups of parents could find the content “sensitive”, and suggest she should not deliver full programs.
However, when meeting with parents, she often found that they welcomed and engaged with the content, and even asked her to teach more.
Beyond the classroom
Ms French and her team have also tried to translate their materials in other languages, but there is a lag due to the long process of grant applications.
They were only able to translate their materials in Mandarin this year by using their prize money from an award.
“A lot of the time, there’s the assumption that we’re in Australia, we’re just going to give everything in English, and that’s going to be fine,” she said.
“But if it’s really important information, like consent education, abuse prevention, sexuality education, any of these, we want to be meeting those parents and making it as accessible for them as possible.”
Ms French said it’s essential that consent education goes beyond the classroom, which then requires parents and teachers to also understand consent.
“If I was to come in just for the five weeks and leave, then great, they’ve had a good five weeks, but that child still needs that education, that empowerment,” she said.
“And if we can’t reach the families, the adults, the educators, then that doesn’t translate for the rest of the year. It doesn’t resonate with how important [consent] is.”
The spokesperson from the Education Department said while the Australian government played a role in setting the curriculum and providing significant funding for schools, it was the responsibility of state and territory governments and non-government education authorities to manage schools.
“This includes managing how the curriculum is implemented and the selection and use of curriculum resources,” the spokesperson said.
“The Respect Matters Program will provide young people with the knowledge and skills to better communicate with one another, make shared decisions, understand consent, resolve conflicts and engage in positive relationships.”
The program is expected to be made available to all schools in coming weeks.
The Queensland government has announced it is reviewing parts of its school curriculum to examine whether sexual consent and reporting sexual assault are being adequately addressed.
Ms Liang, who’s planning chat about consent with her daughter in October, was also undertaking research for the talk.
“We are also growing alongside our children,” she said.
Watch the Q+A special on consent at 8:30pm AEDT on Thursday, March 18.
Docente - Investigadora Educativa.
Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.