Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy: Consultation

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 14th March 2022.

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Photo of Rachel Woods Rachel Woods Green 2:30 pm, 14th March 2022

T5. Miss Woods asked the Minister of Education, who will be aware that the Executive Office is consulting on a violence against women and girls strategy, to state the involvement that the Department of Education has in that process. (AQT 2145/17-22)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Department of Justice leads on that strategy, and the Department of Education will have a role, particularly in those schools where many children come from circumstances where they are perhaps vulnerable. We must recognise that around 3,000 children in Northern Ireland are on the at-risk register. That should be of huge concern to every one of us. Not all of them are young women, by the way; many of them are young men and boys. Therefore, Education should do whatever it can to protect children, be they male or female. There are significant courses of work in the education sector, with reporting lines to social care and so forth.

Many children are safeguarded as a consequence of going to school. It was noted during the lockdown period that children were at greater risk because of their inability to attend school. I know that some Members were not that keen on children returning to school. It is a great thing that children returned to school. Those Members advocated against the return to school, maybe on behalf of a relatively small number of people. I can see a couple of Members saying to each other, "I wonder who he is referring to", but maybe that speaks for itself. Having children in school is a huge asset to the women and children's strategy in that the reporting lines are much stronger through it.

Photo of Rachel Woods Rachel Woods Green

To go back to the Executive Office's violence against women and girls strategy, does the Minister agree that tackling many of the issues that we as a society face with violence, abuse and other treatment of women and girls will necessitate an absolute overhaul of the way in which relationships and sexuality education (RSE) is taught in our schools and a shift in focus towards consent?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I agree with her about consent. There should always be consent — always — and no one should be forced to do things against their will, just as no one should break the law, of course, which happens in certain circumstances. I have to question her conjoining that issue with RSE. As everything is looked at, you update, but it appears that the Member is writing RSE off as wholly deficient, and I do not think that the Minister or the Department would accept that.