Gender in youth work and youth organisations
Where there are people, there are gender issues; and where there are people, there is the potential for gender-based violence.
When young people work, organise, socialise and engage in education together, there will always be a gender dimension, and this needs to be taken into account.
Youth initiatives can play a role in responding to gender-based violence, from supporting young people’s access to proper information about gender-based violence, to advocating for the change of laws and policies. However, youth organisations also need to inspect their own work, to see how, and to what extent, gender issues are addressed.
The best way to start this process of self-reflection is to analyse the ways in which gender features in the work of particular organisations and, generally in organisations or institutions delivering youth work. Gender mainstreaming does not mean simply counting numbers of young women and young men, nor does it necessarily demand running special activities for these groups, although this may be important.
The following section invites you to reflect alone, or together, on gender matters in relation to your community and the organisation you work with.
- Is there widespread social and political recognition that gender-based violence is an issue?
- Are there laws in your country that protect victims of gender-based violence and punish perpetrators?
- Are these laws successfully applied? What are the enforcement mechanisms, and who collects the data?
- How are the issues of gender and gender-based violence reflected in local and national media?
- Who else works on gender-based violence? Are there other organisations carrying out work on the topic that you could learn from, or cooperate with?
- Are the issues of violence and gender-based violence addressed in schools?
Join coalitions and networks of organisations working on gender-based violence. There is no point in duplicating the work of other organisations, and work is often more effective when people and organisations cooperate. If you are just starting to address gender-based violence in your work you could benefit from joining a coalition, giving you access to other organisations’ knowledge and expertise, contacts, training, and research. You could offer a contribution based on providing a youth perspective on the issues discussed, and on expanding the outreach of the coalition.
- How does your organisation address gender-based violence? How does it work on prevention (e.g. it reports cases of gender-based violence, it runs awareness-raising campaigns, etc.)?
- Who is involved in the decision-making structures of your organisation? Are men and women equally represented? Can LGBT+ young people openly assert their identity and take part in your organisation? Are they part of any decision-making structures?
- Do you consider the effect of decisions on different groups – e.g. on men, women, and those who identify as neither?
- Are you aware of gender-based violence experienced by young people in your organisation/group? Are such instances documented/acted upon/discussed? Are there mechanisms in place for reporting or supporting victims?
- Is gender equality viewed through a human rights lens, with a clear understanding that gender equality is not about “special rights”, but about promoting everyone’s dignity and rights to freedom and equality?
- Have the youth workers and youth leaders within the organisation been trained to recognise gender-based violence, and are they able to address it in their youth work, including by providing victims with information about rights and services they can access?
- Are your activities accessible to everyone? How is gender reflected in your selection processes and in communication with participants?
- What kind of resources do you use in your activities? Do these reflect and reproduce gender stereotypes and roles in the society – or do they question them?
- Is there provision for equality of opportunity and participation both with respect to participants, but also for teams or experts invited?
- Do you have a policy for addressing harassment or gender-based violence incidents that might occur in youth work contexts? Is this policy, including any contact persons, made explicit to participants?
Draft a gender policy document containing
- statements of principle relating to gender equality
- specific regulations about how these will be monitored and
- mechanisms for safeguarding gender equality.
The drafting of strategies and policies to promote gender equality can be an important process in itself, even before any strategy or policy is implemented. In participatory environments, such processes and documents need to be dynamic, and open to consultation and revision.
- Do you use a gender binary system of reference in application forms or in communication with young people?
- Do you use gender normative titles such as Ms/Mr in documents?
- Are you able to detect sexist language, and respond appropriately?
- Do you explain choices, such as using gender-neutral pronouns, to participants and youth workers?
Review and, if necessary, create a series of template documents for your organisation, by removing all gender normative titles and including gender sensitive language. This may be difficult to do in some languages, so you may need to see if any such attempts have already been made by others, and discuss possible solutions with colleagues.
Safe environments and facilities
- If you work in a youth centre, have staff been trained on questions of gender equality - including any staff involved in providing services? If you work in a school, or are holding sessions in another establishment, have you discussed such issues with those with responsibility for the establishment?
- When running residential projects, do you take into account the comfort of participants - in terms of accommodation, sharing of rooms, the safety and security of venues and the local neighbourhood?
- Do you accommodate for specific needs (e.g. by allowing someone to accompany a participant, if necessary)?
- Have you developed a code of conduct with participants?
- Do you have emergency contacts for participants? Are you aware of any particular issues you may need to take into account when communicating with emergency contacts? For example, in the case of an LGBT+ participant, do you know if they are “out” to the emergency contact?
- In the case of minors, are you aware of what it may be appropriate or inappropriate to communicate to parents?
- Is there an allocated “trust member” of the educational team that participants can either seek advice from, or appeal to, in cases of discrimination? Is the allocated person aware of issues which might require recourse to legal action?
Work with “single sex” groups in youth work is often used to help young people to address prejudice, stereotypes, and questions about gender norms, and to provide a space for them to explore issues such as sexuality and gender identity. Such groups can help to bridge the gap between society’s expectations and self-realisation.
You could also think of these groups in terms broader than gender: a girls-only group should include transgender girls, if they want to join. You could also organise support groups for young intersex people, or for young lesbian and gays. The same principle should apply: to provide a safe space, where questions relating to gender identity and gender-based violence can be discussed. An effective group should provide members with a feeling of belonging, with tools to deal with problems and conflicts that might arise in everyday life, and with increased self-awareness.
In training, and in organisational contexts, it is important to consider the ways in which power relationships and gender norms are maintained. To highlight and analyse how the relationship between the sexes can be linked to power, the Norwegian social psychologist Berit Ås developed an analysis of domination techniques which incorporates the following points:
- Making invisible
If nobody listens to what you say, you can easily stop talking. Marginalising people can be done through individual actions but can also be the effect of an environment, where it is difficult to make one’s voice heard.
Ridicule can be expressed in comments, insults and jokes, or in non- verbal communication which hints at the other’s inadequacy. People may often play along with these dynamics to avoid being the subject of ridicule.
- Withholding information
Those who hold important information may exercise power and influence. If information is not shared evenly among people in the same position, or if decisions are taken without involving everyone concerned, there is an inequality of power. It may be that important issues are discussed in informal groups, or that decisions have already been taken informally when the official body meets.
- Double punishment
Double punishment means that whatever you do is condemned, or seen as wrong. A girl who is not involved in discussion may be seen as passive, boring and avoiding responsibility. On the other hand, if she gets involved, she may be pointed out for taking too much space and wanting to be 'everywhere'.
- Shame and guilt
Creating feelings of shame and guilt is a powerful tool of oppression. Among boys, it may involve accusing someone of being ‘girly’, or not sufficiently manly. In families, feelings of shame and guilt may be used to control children’s habits or actions, where these are likely to disrupt or where they conflict with established values. In youth contexts, people may be shamed for such things as not taking part, or sharing a joke.
Objectification is normally associated with the kinds of sexualised images that circulate in the popular media. However, people can be objectified in organisational contexts, for example by being referred to in terms of their physical appearance, or by being included merely tokenistically because of their perceived identity.
- Violence and the threat of violence
The fear of being subjected to violence is a strong restraint on people’s behaviour and freedom of movement. For example, having to take a longer route home in order to avoid violence, and not daring to go out at night for fear of violence are everyday realities for many young people.
The Youth Department of the Council of Europe has adopted a set of Guidelines on integrating and mainstreaming gender equality into the intercultural activities of the Council of Europe and its partners.
The activity No Violence in Here can be used to support you to devise a policy for action, and to prevent gender-based violence in school. You could adapt the activity to start a similar discussion in your organisation.
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Youth Student Organisation (IGLYO) has developed a toolkit on addressing norms with young people, Norms Criticism, with the aim of supporting young people to deconstruct norms affecting their lives and identities, and to be able to self-identify and express themselves independently of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, sex characteristics or bodily diversity, and without violence and hatred.
A similar resource, Break the norm! is also available at courtesy of the Living History Forum and RFSL Ungdom (Sweden)
Amnesty International’s My Body, My Rights campaign promotes sexual and reproductive rights for everyone around the world. The campaign advocates for governments to stop using criminal law to control people’s sexuality and reproduction and ensure that people have easy access to sexual and reproductive health services, education and information. It also advocates for the empowerment of people to make decisions over their bodies and the prohibition of all forms of discrimination and violence. The campaign involves research, awareness raising through online and offline actions, petitions, and other advocacy efforts.
Giuvlipen (feminism in Romani language) is a feminist Roma theatre company from Bucharest. They have produced and staged theatre plays and performances that explore the intersection of racism and sexism in the experience of Roma women, with the aim of breaking down stereotypes and prejudice both in the Roma community and in society at large.
Phenja – Violence has no colour was a project implemented by the Association for Roma Women Rights Promotion (E-Romnja) in the period 2014-2016, focusing on working with Roma communities in Romania to explore and expose gender-based violence against Roma women.
LGBT Youth Scotland provides online support to young people through a LiveChat feature of their website, providing the opportunity to chat with trained youth workers in real time about questions of sexual identity, coming out, relationship issues, bullying, and sexual health.