“Nothing about us without us.”
This section of the toolkit aims to support you to think through how to involve young people in the delivery of an effective Whole School Approach (WSA). It is key that this involvement is authentic and meaningful and does not burden young people or make them responsible for solving the problem. Young people have a right to a childhood and a right to an education – it is the responsibility of adults to keep children safe.
Young people are powerful!
“Embrace the possibility of power in the hands of the people you are teaching.”
Involving young people in Prevention will enhance its effectiveness and impact, as well as ensuring any intervention remains young-person centred. Young people are experts in their own lives and are entitled to have a say in the decisions that affect them:
‘Every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously.’ (Article 12, UNCRC)
Involving young people in a Whole School Approach (WSA)
A WSA provides plenty of opportunities for young people to be involved, including:
- Awareness raising and campaigning work in school and the local community.
- Participating in group programmes and interventions.
- Feeding into the development of staff training.
- Setting up clubs and societies, becoming young activists.
When adults hear directly from young people about their experience – for example, about sexual harassment in school – they are much more likely to pay attention and take steps to instigate change.
What is participation?
Although there is no universally accepted definition of participation, it is broadly understood as an ongoing process, which involves dialogue between children and adults, based on mutual respect, and through which children can shape the outcome of a process.
“My confidence has been the biggest factor I have learned…I am able to speak confidently to more people and not to doubt myself.”
Participation provides people with a chance to have a say in decisions that affect their lives. To be worthwhile it is crucial the process leads to real change. If participation is ‘done right’ it can provide many opportunities and benefits to young people. These include:
- Improved relationships and a sense of belonging.
- Autonomy, empowerment and independence.
- Improved confidence and self-esteem.
- An awareness of their rights and an ability to enact them.
- Improved communication, collaboration and leadership skills.
- A better understanding of the mechanisms of change and a sense of social responsibility.
Involving young people with lived experience
Some of the young people who take an active part in a Whole School Approach (WSA) will have experienced harassment, violence and abuse in their own lives. They might also have experienced any combination of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and/or ableism. Youth participation should be made as accessible and inclusive as possible, reducing the barriers to their involvement.
Effective youth participation should provide opportunities for growth and learning. It should also:
- Respect and value young people’s views.
- Be properly resourced.
- Provide a safe and supportive environment.
- Fit around young people’s lives.
- Keep young people informed about actions taken and not taken.
AVA has developed its own toolkit on youth participation, incorporating learning from a 3-year research project. The full toolkit, ‘Safe and Equal: A Guide on Young People and Meaningful Participation for the Violence Against Women and Girls Sector’ can be found here.
Working with Young Men
“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?
- Most abusive people are male. Most men do not use violence but men are mostly responsible for violence against women and girls.
- There are close links between traditional masculinities and gender violence. These powerful norms persist but are not inevitable.
- Men and boys can and must make a difference. Men and boys need to know what they can do to promote safety and equality.
- 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.
The NEU and Beyond Equality have co-produced this toolkit, ‘Working with boys and young men to prevent sexism and sexual harassment.’