Avenue de l'Europe
F-67075 Strasbourg Cedex
Tel. +33 (0)3 88 41 20 00

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.

Domination techniques

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.
  • Ridiculing
    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
    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.

Project examples

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.