09-09-21 Centacare mental health workers Alex Barr and Caitlyn Woodcock are pushing for a greater emphasis on assertive communication in the national conversation around respectful relationships.

In National Child Protection Week, the voices behind EMPOWERED are urging the wider community to speak up and effect change by standing up for themselves and their rights, while respecting the rights and opinions of others.

“Teaching young people to recognise red flag behaviours is also pivotal because it helps them to set boundaries around what they will and will not accept in a relationship,’’ said Caitlyn, who co-wrote EMPOWERED with Alex.

“I’d like young people to recognise they don’t need a partner to be worthy or ‘whole’, as low self-esteem or self-worth can lead to relationships that are neither healthy nor respectful.’’

EMPOWERED engages female Year 10 students and encourages them to foster critical thinking about gender equity and women’s rights.

The program is delivered in two, one-hour sessions over consecutive weeks at the same time as the girls’ male peers undertake the Power to End Violence Against Women (PTEVAW) program. Both initiatives are joint ventures between Centacare and Power Community Ltd.

“We have an opportunity to model respectful relationships when we recognise our own or another’s rights have been violated or disrespected and we communicate that, either through a sincere apology or by stating our needs,’’ Alex said.

“Assertive communication, as opposed to aggressive or passive communication, can empower young people to advocate for themselves and the safety of others.’’

With the support of the City of Port Adelaide Enfield, EMPOWERED will this year engage about 250 students at five schools in the region.

“Assertive people communicate honestly and directly which can help to stop unfair expectations around gender norms or roles of individuals from becoming entrenched in a relationship,’’ Caitlyn said.

Involving women and girls in raising awareness of gender-based violence was among five recommendations in a 2018 Flinders University evaluation of PTEVAW.

The research revealed emerging evidence that key messages were being taken seriously by male students who were putting them into practice. For example, challenging low level behaviours by calling out sexist banter, and learning safe ways to step in when they witness inappropriate behaviour.