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“Violence against girls and women is clearly a men’s issue, and a masculinity issue.”

Engaging young men in Prevention is critical to the success of a Whole School Approach (WSA). Without them on board, progress isn’t possible. It’s also important to understand that gender inequality doesn’t serve the needs of boys and young men. Gender stereotypes are reductive and prevent boys from developing an identity that is truly their own and from speaking openly about their feelings. This is isolating and is partly why suicide rates amongst young men are so high. 

Young men need to be invited to rethink what ‘being a man means to them and others’. They need to be supported to develop identities and behaviours that are healthier for them and for others. Young men are increasingly being influenced by misogynistic messaging in online spaces, including social media. We can teach boys and young men about healthy relationships in the classroom but this is undermined if sexual harassment is going unchecked online in unchallenged in the corridors. A WSA reaches beyond the classroom and calls on young men to be active participants in making change. 

Why engage young men and boys?

  1. Most abusive people are male. Most men do not use violence but men are mostly responsible for violence against women and girls. 
  2. There are close links between traditional masculinities and gender violence. These powerful norms persist but are not inevitable. 
  3. Men and boys can and must make a difference. Men and boys need to know what they can do to promote safety and equality.  
  4. Changing norms improves the lives of boys and men. Men’s violence towards women is linked to men’s violence against other men. 

How to engage young men and boys:

  • Take a holistic approach. Violence and abuse needs to be addressed at every level. Group work and one-to-one work should be combined with work around school policy and culture.
  • Work in partnership with young women. Listen to young women and work alongside them in creating change, ensuring they are credited for their input. 
  • This is not an issue for individuals. Resist scapegoating individuals or making one person the solution. Encourage young men to be personally reflective and accountable.
  • Take an intersectional approach. A person’s privilege is based on more than their gender. Interventions need to be equitable and take account of differences and vulnerabilities. 

This guidance has been adapted from The Imagine Toolkit, a resource developed by project partners from MenEngage (a global alliance), including The Good Lad Initiative (now Beyond Equality), which includes example activities for workshops with young men. 

Resistance to change

Give space for boys to speak about any frustrations or discomfort they feel about feminism, gender equality or gender-based violence. Listen and encourage an exploration of these feelings, but don’t validate them or agree…”

It is likely you will encounter challenge and resistance from some young men during this process. This is to be expected and worth planning for, including providing support for young women and marginalised young people who witness this resistance. There are specialist organisations that are experienced in responding to these challenges and who can provide support and guidance to schools. 

Resources

The NEU and Beyond Equality have co-produced this toolkit, ‘Working with boys and young men to prevent sexism and sexual harassment.’

AVA’s webinar on Toxic Masculinity: