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Peer pressure or coercive control.

Every day in Wise Women is a school day, as they say. On Friday 9th December 2022 I had a wonderful opportunity to meet with some of the young women from high schools in North Ayrshire. We had been invited by North Ayrshire Women’s Aid to run personal safety workshops at their day of celebration for 16 days of activism for the elimination of violence against women and girls. What a day it was! Stalls with essential information on services and support mixed with a nail bar and hairdresser. The room buzzed with excitement, balloons and gifts. Even Santa made an appearance for the kids.

Unfortunately for everyone else, I had the best job! Two personal safety workshops for young women, between the ages of 15 and 18. They were only 1 hour each, so our time was limited, but the young women really engaged.

As always with women it was difficult for them to use their voice. It is a consistent difficulty for women who are so often told from childhood to remain quiet, to be invisible, that their voices have less meaning that the boys or men in the room.

In our personal safety workshops we focus on stance, voice and trusting yourself. The young women of North Ayrshire embraced the opportunity. There was nervous laughter and reluctance to stand out, but they tolerated me and joined in. By the end they were embracing the opportunity to hit a large pad with a baseball bat! Some even came back for more!

During discussions we spoke about peer pressure. It really struck me how as adults we speak to young people about peer pressure, but do we really talk about what it means. It means being coerced into doing something you may not normally do, but it means so much more. It means being forced to ignore what you believe to be right to take part in activities that frighten or anger you. It means being told your understanding of your reality is wrong, shaking your believe in your own judgement and making it difficult for you to be confident in other areas of your life.

As adults we tend to think of peer pressure only in relation to communication between young people, but if we think of it as coerce control it helps us to recognise when we might be reinforcing the same messages.

As I looked around the room at the young shiny faces there were a few who stood out. On some I could recognise the etches of worry, the uncertainty, the shadow of memories that were unrecognised by those around them. At then end of the second session one of the young women approached her teacher and said that the workshops should be held in the school, that some of the young women she knew had things to say and they needed a safe space to say them. How amazing is that young woman.

It was a total honour to work with North Ayrshire Women’s Aid. Such a motivated team that recognises how important it is for women to be in a safe space together that reinforces their voices and their right to express their reality. The young women of North Ayrshire will however stay with me through the festive period. A time that I hope offers fun, peace and a the start of a future full of hope for all of them.

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