Dare to talk: Addressing gender-based discrimination and violence at universities in Latvia

Promote protection of women and girls from violence, abuse, and exploitation

As there is currently little to no awareness among students regarding the harmful effect of gender stereotyping, discrimination and sexual harassment, but the students are openly concerned about mental health challenges that are often related to the aforementioned gender equality issues, the goal of the project is to raise awareness using the interrelatedness of the problem areas by utilising the mental health concerns as an entry point for a discussion. Our aim is to establish a resource for students, providing necessary knowledge and skills to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships, to recognize sexual harassment and sexual violence, as well as warning signs for potentially violent relationships so that preventive action could be taken. Through this, the level of awareness will have increased, both victims and (potential) perpetrators of gender-based discrimination and violence, including sexual violence, will be better able to identify problematic behaviours and challenge them, and provide alternative models of interaction. Men will be purposefully engaged by linking the project with the ongoing initiative “Forum “Stand up!”” that functions as a platform for men with an active disposition towards furthering gender equality and decreasing violence. We predict an increase in reports on sexual harassment and violence in short term (in the student group and possibly to MARTA Centre through the social media, which will increase the likelihood that eventually in the future incidents are reported to the universities’ administration and the police, when appropriate), but a decrease in the violence and harassment itself in long-term.

Our ultimate goal is for preventive action on gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence to be included in the institutional framework of the universities in Latvia, establishing an ongoing support system that is available for university students who have experienced discrimination, sexual harassment or violence, as well as a continuous informative campaign run by the universities, i.e. including a topic on sexual harassment and violence in the university induction materials and workshops. During the project, however, the objective will be to establish 4 student groups in 4 cities (Riga, Liepaja, Valmiera, Rezekne) in order to pilot an adapted method based on the existing youth group methodology developed by MARTA Centre for youth for the duration of the academic year, during which the group members will co-create the necessary resources (posters, brochures, student group methodology) to be then provided to the universities for the next academic year. The methodology is based on non-formal education approach, where, through discussions, case studies, risk assessment and critical thinking activities students are invited to develop competencies needed to establish and maintain healthy relationships with their peers, friends, colleagues, loved ones and themselves.

Duration of the project: 20.08.2020.-30.06.2022.

Intervention sites: Riga, Liepaja, Valmiera, Rezekne and online
- Cycle of 7 online workshops
each 2-3 hours long, were piloted, with the objective of the cycle providing students with the necessary competencies to create healthy relationships and prevent a risk of becoming either a victim or a perpetrator of violence. The workshop cycle covered topics such as gender roles and stereotypes in the Latvian socio-cultural context, mental health, emotion management, stress management, burnout prevention, healthy boundaries (both physical and emotional), consent and bystander effect and bystander intervention. All the topics included a clear gender perspective so as to reinforce the understanding of the gendered nature of many social phenomena. 50 students from at least 5 different higher education institutions took part in these workshops. Through the cycle of workshops, the level of awareness about gender-based violence, sexism and discrimination have been increased. Participants have gained ability to identify problematic behaviors and challenge them and provide alternative models of interaction. When evaluating the cycle of the workshops, more than 80% of participants noted that they have gained a lot of new information and can agree or strongly agree that now they are more able to recognize violence than before taking part in the workshops. As well as more than 70% of participants noted that now they feel more confident to talk about violence (inform, educate) with others and feel more confident (including know-how) to respond in situations when violence occurs.
Guidebook of the workshops can be accessed and downloaded here: Rokasgrāmata_Drosme runāt 2022 

- National conference “Dare to Talk: A way towards better environment for students” was organized online in May 2021. Conference was created together with the students who took part in the online workshop sessions and involved 9 guest speakers from different fields:  psychology, violence prevention and interventions, stress management, mediation, gender equality and prevention of discrimination. Conference has reached more than 900 people (both in live event and recording) and its recording can be accessed here.

- Development, design and printing of support materials: brochures with a test about healthy/unhealthy relationships (can be accessed online here)

Project supported by US Embassy in Riga, U.S. Department of State Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF)