Welcome to Gender Matters. This manual is a resource for working on issues of gender and gender-based violence affecting young people, with young people.
Working with young people on issues relating to gender and gender-based violence is a central part of human rights education: educational programmes and activities that focus on promoting equality in human dignity. Over recent years, the Directorate of Youth and Sport of the Council of Europe has worked with youth organisations, associations, initiatives and networks to make human rights education a central aspect of European youth work and citizenship. Developed in relation to other work areas such as intercultural learning, political participation, empowerment of minorities and young people from minority backgrounds, human rights education has the potential to be a catalyst for a range of educational, political and cultural actions. Human rights education is a profound and challenging area for youth workers; it involves rights that are universal, indivisible and inalienable, but also the subject of political marginalisation, interpretation and challenge.
The Directorate of Youth and Sport, particularly through the European Youth Centres in Strasbourg and Budapest and the European Youth Foundation, has acquired a widely recognised expertise for developing and implementing educational approaches, activities and resources that can be adapted to both formal and non-formal educational settings, as well as across different social and cultural realities in Europe. Ongoing events in Europe and the wider world give this work a constant urgency, as moves towards a ‘culture of peace’ are challenged by new conflicts and risks.
In this context, a Human Rights Education Youth Programme was launched in 2000 with the aim to bring human rights education into the mainstream of youth policy and youth work practice. Since the beginning of this programme, the Directorate of Youth and Sport held numerous activities to address the issues surrounding gender and violence and involving young people in the prevention of gender-based violence. An integrated project ‘Responses to violence in everyday life in democratic society’, was instigated by the Council of Europe in 2002.
The expression of need for educational material dealing specifically with these issues of gender-based violence was born in the recommendations from the “Violence Against Young Women in Europe” seminar that took place at the European Youth Centre, Budapest in 2001. The outcome of this and numerous other seminars produced recommendations which are summarised in the publication “Young People and Violence Prevention – Youth Policy Recommendations”. This publication built the basis of the work of the 7th European Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth that took place in Budapest, 2005. The subject of gender-based violence got special attention in the final recommendation of this conference in paragraph 5:
In order to prevent gender-related violence, notably against children and young people, homophobic violence and the sexual exploitation of children and young people, governments should include a priority focus on gender equality, sexuality and power in their youth policy agendas.
Addressing gender-based violence is particularly relevant in the work priorities of the Directorate of Youth and Sport, especially those dealing with human rights education and social cohesion. This is emphasized by the following projects and objectives:
- developing networks of trainers and multipliers in human rights education with young people;
- supporting and promoting good practice in human rights education and intercultural dialogue at local level;
- supporting the recognition of human rights education and intercultural dialogue in formal and non-formal education;
- empowering young people to be actors in preventing all forms of violence;
- developing the capacity of youth organisations and multipliers to address all forms of violence.
The Council of Europe broader activities also continue to work towards raising the awareness of European citizens on gender-based violence and putting an end to it through campaigns such as the “Stop Domestic Violence Against Women” campaign and the work of the Equality between Women and Men division.
For more information or to get involved in the “Stop Domestic Violence Against Women” campaign, visit the website.
The Compass points in new directions: gender and gender-based violence
Within the framework of the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Education Youth Programme – “Compass - a manual on Human Rights Education with Young People” was produced and launched in 2002 in order to make human rights education accessible, usable and useful to educators, facilitators, leaders, teachers, volunteers and trainers who are active in educational activities with young people. It does this by providing a wide range of approaches, themes and methods together with 49 practical activities to engage, involve and motivate young people to form a positive awareness of human rights in their own ways and in their own communities.
You can find Compass online at
In a sense, human rights education addresses all aspects of life today, and one of the most important aspects of Compass is the overview it provides of key issues and areas of life where human rights are often violated and under threat. This overview points to central issues that human rights education can and should address, and also to the ways in which issues in human rights education interact. For example, we cannot consider the section on children and the rights of the child (pp 317 - 321), without also considering poverty (pp 382-86) and education (pp 345-50). Human rights education is challenging for precisely this reason: it asks us to combine an overview with some more specific areas of knowledge and experience.
This manual is also a response to this challenge; gender equality and inequality has registered in Compass (pp 354-358), but this manual is addressed to those who want to take a longer journey in that direction. Compass examines the ways in which gender inequalities may take a different shape in different societies, but makes it clear that gender power affects everybody on the planet, in both our private and public lives and worlds.
The aim of Gender Matters is to provide information, perspectives and resources for deepening and widening this focus on gender and human rights.
Why do we need a resource addressing gender and gender-based violence?
At one level, the reason for working on gender and gender issues should be self-evident. Everybody is gendered; we all live to a large extent through an identity as ‘man’ or ‘woman’, reflecting on roles we play socially that involve expectations of masculinity and femininity, and living a sexuality that shapes our relations to others while being judged according to prevailing ideas in our societies. Our gendered identities are not static, but change and shift according to our experiences, the contexts we live in, the power we have and the desires we feel. The freedom we have to control and fashion this aspect of our identity depends very much on the absence or presence of different expectations, pressures and prejudices. Gender is something that is with us from the moment we are dressed as a boy or girl at birth, to the types of speeches friends will make at our funerals.
Nevertheless, the writers of Gender Matters have the impression that gender is not a central consideration in many aspects of formal and non formal education and has long been neglected in European youth work and youth policy. While it has become common – in intercultural learning, for example - to reflect on our cultural conditioning and what it means for interaction with others, this very basic reflex has not been accompanied by a similarly basic reflection on gender. There may be many reasons for this:
- Gender is often associated with women’s issues and feminism, and therefore seen to have been ‘sorted out’ or ‘yesterday’s issue’;
- Gender is a very difficult subject to address (personally and educationally) as it asks us to consider intimate aspects of our sense of self, sexuality and behaviour;
- Considering gender means questioning forms of power and privilege that benefit many people, mainly men, in our societies.
Yet when young people are brought together in an educational activity, questions of gender identity, sexuality and power are present (as they are wherever human beings gather in groups of two or more!). Gender Matters aims to remind us of this and to suggest that all youth activities involve thinking about the kinds of environment we provide for young people.
This is especially important when it comes to the presence of gender-based violence in the lives of young people. As chapter two of this manual discusses, various forms of gender-based violence – from violence in the ‘private’ world of the home to the structural violence of neo-liberal economics – affect the security, dignity and potential of countless young people. The reality of young people throughout Europe and the rest of the world include domestic violence, rape and incest, human trafficking, violence in armed conflict, racism and discrimination, female genital mutilation and other forms of bodily mutilation, economic injustice and social exclusion. Gender-based violence, in all its forms, is a violation of human rights. Young women are particularly vulnerable to the types of violence outlined, as are young people whose sexual identities are marginalised and discriminated against socially and politically. However this manual also pays significant attention to the ways in which masculinity – different cultural constructions of ‘being a man’ – may demand attitudes to violence that inhibit and affect many young men. These young people are not abstract statistics but are present in our schools, youth clubs, organisations, work camps and projects.
If gender is central to human relationships, it is likely that gender-based violence is ever-present in private relationships and our societies in general. While statistics on how often it occurs vary from state to state - and there are significant differences in levels of awareness, political commitment and social provision in different European contexts - the forms of gender-based violence discussed here exist everywhere. That is the starting point for this manual, and that is why working on gender awareness and addressing gender-based violence needs to be an integrated aspect of human rights education in Europe. Gender-based violence is not an optional extra in human rights education; it is always already present in the life experiences young people bring with them into educational and youth work contexts. Gender-based violence is a form of human rights abuse that many young people are exposed to, and it is an experience of violence that prevents them from developing and fully exercising their rights.
Using this resource
Gender Matters aims to be a useful introduction to gender and gender-based violence for people who work with young people, by providing:
- A reflection on gender and gender-based violence
- Background legal, political and social information
- Methods and resources for education and training activities with young people.
As a result, it is organised in the following way:
Chapter 1: Approaching Gender gives an overview of different understandings and theories of gender. The emphasis is on gender as a process, and on understanding how expectations of gender roles and behaviours are significant for power and possibility in our societies.
Chapter 2: Gender-based violence discusses why gender-based violence has become an important aspect of human rights work; it gives an overview of different kinds of gender-based violence, and the impacts they have on people who have been victimised.
Chapter 3: Mobilising against gender inequality and gender-based violence provides ideas to consider when mobilising against gender-based violence. This is relevant to activism within organisations or associations, and also in the wider campaigning or training work on young activists.
Chapter 4: Exercises addressing gender and gender-based violence with young people comprises exercises for training and facilitation that cover different gender issues and aspects of gender-based violence.
Appendices provide essential information regarding the current European and international human rights instruments related to gender-based violence, including international organisations and institutions that work on issues relating to this.
Although all the exercises have been put in Chapter 4 of the manual which may appear the most ‘hands on’ resource when addressing gender-based violence with young people, throughout the first three chapters you will also find:
Reflection Boxes – These are guided questions that can be adapted from individual questions for reflection to group orientated questions and facilitated discussions.
Case Boxes – These are real life stories or situations that young people face and have been recorded here. They can be used as examples when illustrating the reality of gender-based violence and its impact on people.
Definition Boxes – These are definitions of uncommon terms that explain them further and can be used for your own knowledge or to explain concepts to others.
Good Practice Boxes – These examples show what some organisations are doing to prevent and fight against gender-based violence and can give you and other people ideas on similar activities that can be organised.
When reading this resource and thinking about its use in your youth work, it is important to consider the question of responsibility:
- Educators have a responsibility to those they work with. This manual is based on the principle that while gender is of relevance to everyone, it does not follow that running safe and ethical explorations of gender in youth work is straightforward. Specific training reflections, approaches and methodologies are necessary. If some exercises are not used carefully and sensitively, they can have an opposite effect on young people and be used to promote stereotypes and work against the prevention of gender-based violence.
- Working with gender – as with other areas of human rights education – is a competence area. It always begins with the youth activists working with themselves, and reflecting on the attitudes, beliefs, knowledge and behaviour that a person brings to youth work in general, and work on gender in particular.
- Users don’t have to read this manual in its entirety to be able to use it. How much you read (and reflect on) before using the exercises is guided by how competent you feel about the subject, your own skills, your own self-reflection and the needs of your group.
- Topics relating to gender and gender-based violence are sensitive. This sensitivity is not only felt by young people but also by communities, organisations, institutions and governments. To work further in this area together with others, it is necessary to be “tolerant” to the different approaches taken while being firm on the purpose.
- When working with a group of young people, we can never fully know the backgrounds and experiences of the people we work with. The subjects that are raised when discussing gender and gender-based violence can initiate sensitive feelings and uncomfortable discussions for some. It is important to be aware of how the people you work with are reacting and to know how to deal with situations before they arise. For more advice on how to do this, read further the introduction to the exercises in Chapter 4.
A final point needs to be made about the translation of this resource into different societies and contexts. The authors of Gender Matters have tried to use sources and examples from a range of places in the Europe of the Council of Europe and beyond. Inevitably, however, we are guided by what we know, and more importantly, by what we do not know! This manual asks those who read it to be interpreters, not necessarily translating from one language to another, but from one context to another. The reader will need to supplement the information provided here with information from, for example, their own national realities, institutions and NGOs. In addition, we hope that readers will take the time and make the effort to reflect and decide where different perspectives do not fit their experience and youth work context, and adapt and substitute examples, ideas and explanations.