Findings from a UN Women 20-country study show attitudes towards gender roles have deteriorated amid COVID-19 as outdated social norms and stereotypes keep society from reaching gender equality.

Exploring attitudes towards women is the key aim of a project I’m working on in collaboration with Essex County Council and my colleague Dr Mary Mazzilli.

What we are doing

Our project delivers two-hour workshops that provide a supportive space to share thoughts and experiences and learn from each other through simple activities and discussions.

The participants are aged 18-30 or 50 and above, with different gender groupings.

We’ll ask the participants to consider their attitudes towards women, what they think other people’s attitudes are, and how they think they have changed over time.

What is our approach

I am the Director of Running At Walls, a workshop provider specialising in consent education. We believe that creative education for personal exploration must happen at all levels of society.

These workshops empower participants to explore, question and challenge attitudes towards women in a safe environment using theatre and other creative methods, such as creative writing and crafting. We share tools for asserting and respecting boundaries and practising empathy and listening skills.

Feedback tells me this approach works. A previous participant said: “The workshop cultivated a safe space for sharing, and established boundaries for participants in a very positive and constructive way."

What will happen in the workshops

In these workshops, the participants will undertake various activities and discussions that provide a platform to explore attitudes towards women with nuance and empathy. They will be invited to reflect on the self, others and the world.

In one section of the workshops, the participants meet a character, Stacey, played by me, who shares stories from her life relevant to attitudes towards women. Stacey works in a pub and is experiencing issues with the punters, the staff, and even people on the street. After hearing her dilemmas, the participants can ask Stacey questions to find out more information and, ultimately, give her advice.

I am always blown away by the engagement with Stacey in workshops. Participants seem to truly believe she is real, leaning into her story (literally and figuratively), and expressing evident concern and a desire to help.

How we’ll share our findings

We’ll share what we learn through a short documentary of the process, a performance based on the workshops, and a panel discussion involving workshop participants, stakeholders, experts and politicians.

Making our findings public will help:

• To explore attitudes towards women and how these attitudes may have changed over time
• To celebrate the participants' experiences in the workshops
• To consider the next steps to prevent harm concerning attitudes towards women

Then what?

At the end of the project, Dr Mazzilli and I will provide an evaluation of the project and a policy briefing. By assessing the impact of the workshops and the sharing, recommendations can be made for further research and action. We are also hoping that this project will be a catalyst for similar projects to come in other counties and nationally.

By taking a creative and tailored approach, we can help to change harmful behaviours and create a safer and more inclusive culture.

We’d love you to help us improve safety for women and girls in Essex. If you’d like to participate in one of our workshops or learn more, email us or complete our online form.