In a symbolic gesture against males perpetrating domestic violence and abuse against females, around 1,000 Bayside School boys locked arms in a line that snaked all around the school last Friday.
The locking arms action was to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – White Ribbon Day.
Joining the boys were some students from Westside School and the Gibraltar College.
There to see them participate in this event was the Minister for Social Services and Equality Samantha Sacramento and Minster for Education Dr John Cortes.
“When I talk about breaking the cycle, it is about teaching children at a very young age what inappropriate behaviour, abuse, violence and domestic violence in particular is not acceptable,” Ms Sacramento said.
“Educating them while they are young is how we will work towards our goal of breaking the cycle in the future.”
“It has been so emotional, because we have been planning this and I knew the whole school was going to be participating but it’s been quite overwhelming just to see it, I think we felt it, they [the students] felt it.”
She added that she felt that students who are victims or see domestic abuse taking place will now feel empowered to speak up about these experiences.
Dr Cortes said he felt “…very, very emotional, just to think virtually every single young man who is going to take his part in society in Gibraltar in years to come was here taking part in such a significant event. Even if it only touches one or two of them we have already made a difference and from what I saw today it has touched a lot more than that.”
“As Sam [Ms Sacramento] was saying there will be some that will have witnessed this issue, maybe they will be encouraged to come out to communicate, tackle it in their own way and be able to cope with it and some who in the future might be both victims and perpetrators. Hopefully we have done something today to stop that happening, to break that cycle.”
Head teacher at Bayside, Michael Tavares, told the students at assembly: “Remember we need to take home a very powerful message with us. By all means have conversations when you get home, talk to your parents, talk about what you have seen today and you may as well tell them all how proud we are of you, so well done and thank you very much.”
White Ribbons were sold and students wore white t-shirts as a sign of solidarity.
Last Friday also marked the start of a period of 16 days where local campaigners are bringing awareness to Gender-Based Violence.
In addition, there was a prize giving ceremony for the winners of a poetry and short story competition on domestic violence and abuse. Winning students received certificates and trophies, from Bayside winning 1st prize was David Lester, 2nd prize Omar El Yettefti and 3rd prize Walid Halhoul. The Gibraltar College winners were, 1st prize Erica Fernandez, 2nd prize Elina Vilop and 3rd prize Kaylan Payas.
Ms Sacramento said: “When I look at gender equality, I look at the issues of domestic violence, and while domestic violence isn’t exclusively something that affects women, domestic violence and violence effects men but studies show it predominantly effects women.”
Calling the event a truly interagency project with everyone working together, she said: “My department [of equality] and I are working with all other Government departments to make sure we have the right policies and strategies in place throughout the Government because it’s about helping victims, working with perpetrators and it’s about breaking the cycle.”
She adds that they all worked with the school, via the Department of Education, the Department of Social Services with the head of children services, Nicole Viagas, also attending the event.
Ms Viagas “…is an integral part of the whole strategy because they are the professionals who work with victims of domestic abuse, the children of the victims and they also work with perpetrators. I lot has been done within the social services department in the last three years to be able ensure that department is properly equipped to deal with issues such as this.”
She also said that what was organised at the school that day is just one façade of the whole plan and strategic the Government has embarked on but that the important thing about the event is that it is about education and it is about empowerment.
The Government uses the term domestic abuse, to encompass violence, emotional abuse, financial abuse and about control.
Dr Cortes, was previously the Minister for Health and had worked with Ms Sacramento in that capacity to tackle domestic abuse. Now as Minister for Education he said: “This is a continuation of our relationship and I am really looking forward to bringing equality into education and the schools.”
“It has been a wonderful experience, the staff accepted it and the students have all embraced it so tremendously, it was so emotional as some said walking along the line of over 1,000 young men and some girls from Westside.”
“Education we know is crucial as we know for what happens next in society and today we have shown we can work together and we can promote this sort of initiative.”