Posted by Umm Abdullah
On 16th January, By 10.30 am the hall of the Maryam Centre was already fully packed out. There were mothers standing, some were on chairs and others sitting on the floor.
Kate Smith the Head of Healthy Lives Team and the lead from Tower Hamlets Council for the creation of the RSE policy for the borough was at the front. She started by making a short speech on why they were introducing this new change. She mentioned RSE is something that they’ve always taught but now they were making new additions.
After Kate finished her speech mothers were given the chance to ask questions and give their views. Many mothers raised their hands, they formed orderly lines yet still many of them were unable to speak as time had run out.
Weak responses to questions
One mother pointed out how this meeting is being held at the end of the process when there have been talks between other bodies, yet parents weren’t involved. The overwhelming feeling was that parents have been alienated from the whole process. To this Kate had very little to say that the government only finalised everything in November so they couldn’t hold talks earlier than that.
Another mother said that respect has to go both ways, just as society expects people to respect someone who is LGBT, a Muslim may say “that’s fine you feel like that but I don’t believe in this way of life because I follow a higher moral conscious by following my scriptures and my opinion should also be respected”. Mothers asked if a child did say these things would they be referred to prevent and she couldn’t answer this. Kate said she doesn’t have much knowledge of Prevent and it’s a different department of work to what she does.
RSE is a concern, join the effort now
Kate rarely gave a valuable response that fully addressed the questions asked, sometimes her answers were repetitive.
As the meeting went on, mothers kept on coming until the whole hall was filled with mothers (400 is the maximum capacity of the hall).
A mother asked, is there research that shows that exposing children at a young age helps to safeguard them? Lacking firmness in her voice, Kate answered that “research from all around the world has shown it lowers the sexualisation of children”. Although Kate said this, she didn’t elaborate any further by showing any proof of the studies she referred to, which weakened her answer.
As the meeting continued, the sheer turn out and the frustration and struggle in the mother’s faces were noticed by Kate who mentioned herself that she “didn’t expect such a large turnout”. Additionally, Kate didn’t expect to be asked such heavy questions, to which she was underprepared.
Mothers asked will there be anything set up to support families and children if children start to explore themselves after being taught these things, Kate answers were non-existent. Due to lack of time, a lot of mothers were unable to voice their thoughts, but even with the few mothers that did, the answers given were not satisfactory and at most times vague.
In the midst of this frustration, mothers spoke in the most gentle and polite way and every single mother made very valid points that were hard-hitting. It was clear that mothers in that meeting were concerned about their children’s future and what environment they will be brought up in. Every mother echoed the same thoughts in their mind, that they will not let this go so easily, mothers will persevere to the end for their children and future generations and try every avenue possible to prevent this from being implemented (the way it has been proposed by the borough) in schools.
Unanswered questions remained
As the meeting drew to an end, many unanswered questions remained, more worries came to mind with no promises of change or hope from this meeting. Kate was clearly taken aback from this whole experience. As the mothers were leaving, confusions were apparent on their faces and mothers exchanged peaceful greetings and left feeling uncertain about the future that lay ahead for our children.
In such difficult and testing times, coming together to stand united was a success in itself even though the journey for this campaign had just begun! The moral minds were brought together and this was a wakeup call for which more action is required.
Views and opinions posted on the Blog are that of the author and are not necessarily the views and opinions of THPA