We’re really proud to share some of our learnings and practices from our experiences with the ‘Next Gen Men’ in our youth program, from our team debriefs and planning, and drawing on the knowledge and expertise of other programs and researchers. Presented at the Youth Forum and NGO CSW Forum at the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women, these are our 10 Tips for Engaging Boys and Young Men in Gender Equity and Transformative Masculinities!
1 | What’s Your Hook?
Getting boys and young men to take the first step ‘in the door’ to start learning about gender inequities is often the first challenge. In Next Gen Men’s youth program, we emphasize the opportunity to build friendships outside of school, fun activities, and a field trip. We know of other programs that offer sports and recreation, or even take place during school hours and allow students to ‘skip class’ for their sessions.
2 | Get Out of the Classroom!
Instead of didactic, lecture-style teaching methods like lectures and presentations, using participatory, experiential activities and games to encourage discussion, sharing, and critical reflection can have a lasting impact on boys’ and young men’s understanding of, attitudes, towards, and actions around gender inequity. In our program, we start with a check-in circle, use physical movement and activity, watch short videos, and use role plays to explore issues from different points of view and practice new skills.
3 | Take Your Time
Having multiple sessions spaced apart by a week or a few days allows participants to reflect on what they are learning and how they can apply it to their everyday lives. In our sessions, we use our check-in time to review what we learned in the previous sessions and share if there were any opportunities to put it into practice.
4 | Safe, Inclusive Spaces
We establish group agreements on respect, confidentiality, and other ground rules suggested by our groups in the first session. Whether you have many sessions with a group or just one, it is crucial to foster a safe space for everyone to be included.
5 | Challenge Gender Norms and Stereotypes
Using a gender transformative approach means challenging gender norms and stereotypes and addressing gender-based discrimination and violence in all its forms. There are opportunities to weave this focus into all different types of activities, games, and discussions.
6 | Gender Equality is Good for Everyone
We discuss how gender norms and stereotypes are harmful to people of all genders, including boys and young men. We want to promote the idea that gender equity is good for everyone and that boys and young men have an opportunity to be part of the solution!
7 | Role Model Healthier Masculinities
As facilitators, role models, and mentors, it is important to demonstrate and practice what we are hoping to inspire, such as vulnerability. If we are asking participants to share and talk about their experiences and feelings openly and honestly, we must be willing to do so ourselves. The first person to role model this behaviour, whether it is the facilitator or a participant, often gives permission to others to follow their lead.
8 | Break Through The Masks
People of all genders and ages seek acceptance and belonging and care about how they are perceived. Understanding this fear of rejection has helped us in working with boys and young men, who often adopt a ‘tough guy’ facade to fit in, belong, and/or protect themselves from bullying and other social and psychological harms. We ask everyone to let down the masks they wear and accept themselves and others for who they are.
9 | Meet Everyone Where They’re At
Every person’s willingness to learn about gender inequities and their readiness to take action is different! Understanding this means finding ways to offer different opportunities for different individuals and groups, including those who are very engaged and those who are very resistant.
10 | Build Peer Support
It’s not always easy being the only person who is willing to stand up against bullying, discrimination, or violence. We work with groups from different classrooms, grades, and communities and encourage them support each other and stand up for what’s right outside of our program.
Why boys and young men?
Childhood, adolescence, and youth are critical ‘windows of opportunity’ during which the opinions, ideas, and beliefs that reinforce gender inequalities can be challenged. Boys and young men experience many advantages in our patriarchal societies, but just like everyone, they are also negatively affected by restrictive gender roles and stereotypes. Encouragingly, there is evidence that younger generations of boys and men are more accepting of gender equality! To accelerate change for the next generation, we need to continue to engage and involve boys and young men in gender equity.
What do we mean by ‘gender equity?’
Our vision for gender equity is for people of all genders to be valued and included and for everyone to grow up in a world in which they are not restricted or limited in any way by their gender identity and expression. We also like the idea of equity, because it’s important to recognize that not everyone starts at the same place or has the same needs.
What do we mean by ‘transformative masculinities?’
Basically, we think a lot about the question of ‘what does it mean to be a man!’ We grew up with some of the societal norms and stereotypes that told us that there was only one way to be masculine. These ideas have led to significant harm to boys and men themselves, and people of other genders. The good news is that these norms and stereotypes are constructed by society and they can be changed by the people that make up our society! We can all embrace the idea that masculinity comes in many different expressions (hence, masculinities) and redefine ‘what it means to be a man’ for the next generation.