Jan 13 2012 by Amanda Mckendrick, Lennox Herald (main ed)
REDUCING violence against women is the simple aim of a project which has been working quietly behind the scenes across West Dunbartonshire for the last seven years.
But although its aspirations may be basic, the work of Reduce Abuse is not and the project has been hailed by many as ground-breaking.
Project co-ordinator Shona Bruce and worker Anne Louise Maher work specifically with young people of both sexes to reduce violence against women.
They challenge stereotypes, increase awareness of abuse and promote healthy relationships to teenagers who can be vulnerable.
Shona said: “We are trying to tackle abuse from a whole lot of angles, rape, sexual assault, prostitution, pornography, sexual exploitation such as lap dancing, forced marriage, gender mutilation and domestic abuse.
“I know people will say that domestic abuse is also perpetrated against men, but 82 per cent of the incidents are committed by men on women.
“We focus mainly on secondary schools although we have done some work in primaries and it is all at an age-appropriate level.
“One of the first things we do is look at the toys boys and girls played with when they were young. Girls will say baby dolls, prams, Barbies, while boys will say Action Men, superheroes and guns.
“Action Man is macho and doesn’t have a girlfriend, he saves the world but Barbie with her impossible figure and blonde hair does have a boyfriend.
“Young people are getting these messages from the age of two about what is expected of them.”
Shona added: “The influences are not even subtle, they are surrounded by it from the media.
“The girls want to look like the cast of TOWIE or Cheryl Cole or Katie Price with their fake tans, massive heels, short skirts and false eyelashes, that is what is portrayed as beautiful, while boys want to be like Charlie Sheen who is seen as a drinker, a player.
“We are not looking at it from a judgemental point of view, we all have guilty pleasures, but the problem is when that is what our young people are aspiring to. These are their role models.”
The project, which goes into every West Dunbartonshire secondary school, works with mixed groups of teenagers as well as speaking to girls and boys separately to talk about issues which affect each gender.
Shona continued: “We try to get them to see the double standards.
“It’s not about attacking boys, there is pressure on them as well.
“The problem is the sexualisation of our culture.
“The average age of boys accessing porn is 10 or 11. You are only ever two clicks away from porn at any point on a computer.
“Girls want Playboy branded stuff for their bedroom from primary school then when they get to an age when they realise what Playboy is and realise it’s porn, they think it’s acceptable.
“It’s about being proud of your gender and being aware of and looking out for the stuff that makes boys or girls vulnerable.”