OPINION - Sadiq Khan: As a proud feminist, I believe we need to teach boys about respect early

 (Matt Writtle)
(Matt Writtle)

The Evening Standard’s investigation into misogyny and sexual harassment in our schools raises some profoundly troubling questions — not just about the alarming prevalence of sexist attitudes among young boys, but the failure of society to do more to safeguard young girls and promote gender equality.

A significant number of male pupils — some shockingly young — are now routinely sharing porn and explicit images of female students on their phones, while the influence of Andrew Tate appears to extend deep into our classrooms.

As a proud feminist, these are sobering and unsettling findings and a reason why the new Evening Standard Show Respect campaign is so important. But there is plenty we can, and should, be doing to prevent misogynistic beliefs from taking root in the minds of young boys.

We need to take on the pervasive view that the lives of women and girls are worth less

First, this paper is correct in campaigning for the Department for Education to create a new category that records when a pupil is excluded for sexist abuse, harassment or violence against girls.

Second, greater pressure needs to be applied to the social media firms. While some good work has been done, these companies need to go further — making sure children can’t access pornographic material and adjusting algorithms so they don’t amplify the most extreme voices.

Third, we need to invest in programmes rooted in prevention and early intervention. As Mayor, even though I have limited powers and resources, I’ve already put more than £163 million into tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG). This includes rolling out a VAWG prevention toolkit to our schools and launching high-profile campaigns — like “Have A Word” and “Say maaate to a mate” — to encourage men and boys to call out inappropriate language and sexual harassment.

As I announced during the recent mayoral campaign, we intend to build on this work by funding organisations that provide outreach and training to schoolchildren, helping them to confidently challenge misogyny among peers.

Fundamentally, we need to take on the pervasive and pernicious view that the lives of women and girls are worth less. It is this belief which creates the environment where male violence can flourish. This means a concerted effort to teach boys, from a young age, about the principles of equality and respect.

Young girls and women everywhere deserve safety, dignity and the freedom to enjoy their inalienable rights to the full.

We owe it to them to create schools, cities and societies where gender equality is a lived reality, not an abstract ideal.

Sadiq Khan is Mayor of London