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Second level education key to eliminating violence against women, says National Women’s Council

Published: Monday, November 27, 2023

NWC is calling for mandatory relationships and sexuality education along with supports for teachers and schools to deliver the curriculum accurately

Violence against women is at epidemic levels in Ireland, and prevention is key to eliminating it, according to the National Women’s Council (NWC). A crucial part of prevention is educating young people about the societal norms that underpin violence against women. Schools have a key role to play in providing age-appropriate education about healthy relationships and highlighting the harm of gendered stereotypes.

Today NWC brings together key stakeholders, including representatives of parents and students, and experts from the curriculum redevelopment and violence against women fields. Our discussion will explore the implementation of the Junior Cycle SPHE curriculum and the ongoing redevelopment for Senior Cycle.

NWC Head of Policy and Development Kate Mitchell said:

“Education is key to advancing gender equality through challenging attitudes and norms which underpin stereotypes. It’s also key in dismantling other societal problems such as racism, homophobia, and ableism. But right now in Ireland, religious and conservative influences are very much felt in our schools, and this has a clear impact when it comes to relationships and sexuality education.”

Ian Power, CEO of Spunout, said:

“In covering topics of gender equality and health promotion, the new SPHE curricula must include opportunities for young people to engage with a diversity of experiences. Students and teachers must be facilitated to hear a variety of lived experiences in order to develop the necessary empathy and understanding of difference so we can reduce the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes and potential for discrimination. A lack of understanding and empathy negatively impacts the lives of marginalised young people in our school communities who may face bullying, discrimination, and other forms of violence. We know this from listening to the voices of disabled students, young Traveller & Roma students, and LGBTIQ+ students. The SPHE reform is an opportunity to respond to their call for change.”


NWC recommends that relationships and sexuality education be made mandatory at second level and be integrated across all relevant subjects such as biology and physical education. Providing standardised training to teachers is particularly important to facilitate this and to empower them to feel comfortable delivering the curriculum. This training should equip teachers to deal with the inevitability of teaching students who have direct personal experiences of harm from gender-based violence, discrimination, or abuse. It should begin during their college years and continue throughout their careers through ongoing professional development.

Opportunities to promote RSE both within and outside of the classroom should also be explored, so that parents and wider school staff feel prepared to effectively engage with the content that teachers and students are engaging with in the classroom.


For comment: Kate Mitchell

Find here NWC’s submission to the redevelopment of the Senior Cycle Curriculum: https://www.nwci.ie/learn/publication/nwc_submission_on_the_senior_cycle_sphe_redevelopment

And to the draft specification: https://www.nwci.ie/learn/publication/nwc_submission_on_the_draft_specification_for_senior_cycle_sphe

Find here our submission on the Junior Cycle curriculum: https://www.nwci.ie/images/uploads/Junior_Cycle_SPHE_Submission_2022_FINAL.pdf

For more information, please contact Sinéad Nolan, NWC Communications and Social Media Coordinator, on sineadn@nwci.ie


About NWC

The National Women’s Council is the leading national representative organisation for women and women’s groups in Ireland, founded in 1973. We have over 190 member groups and a large and growing community of individual supporters.

This year we celebrate 50 years since our foundation with a special calendar of events and campaigns.

The ambition of the National Women’s Council is an Ireland where every woman enjoys true equality and no woman is left behind. This ambition shapes and informs our work, and, with our living values, how we work.

We are a movement-building organisation rooted in our membership, working on the whole island of Ireland. We are also part of the international movement to protect and advance women’s and girls’ rights. Our purpose is to lead action for the achievement of women’s and girls’ equality through mobilising, influencing, and building solidarity. Find out more on www.nwci.ie