Gender Matters - Manual on Gender based Violence Affecting Young People
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4. Exercises addressing gender and gender-based violence with young people

4.1 Working with gender and gender-based violence in the context of (non-formal) education with young people

The aim of ”Gender Matters” is to provide information, perspectives and resources for deepening and focusing the emphasis of youth and educational activities which address issues related to gender and gender-based violence within the framework of human rights education.

While there is no special starting point, and it is our intention that you have the opportunity to choose the parts that are relevant for you, we strongly recommend you look through the whole manual to gain an overall picture of the contents, and that you read the parts of the conceptual chapters most closely related to the issues being addressed by your work with young people. The previous chapters cover conceptual and definitional information on gender and gender-based violence, as well as information relevant for mobilising to combat gender-based violence and human rights abuses related to gender.

As already outlined in the introduction to the manual, reading this resource, and thinking about its use in relation to your youth work, must be accompanied by consideration of questions of responsibility, ethics and sensitivity:

  • This resource does not expect prior expertise from readers. However, it 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, and a sensitive approach to dealing with disclosures that participants may make in the context of such activities is required.
  • Working with gender – as with other special topics in the context of human rights education – is a competence area. It always begins with the youth activist working with him- or herself, and reflecting on the attitudes, beliefs, knowledge and behaviour that he or she brings to youth work in general, and work on gender in particular.
  • As with Compass[1], users do not have to read this manual in its entirety to be able to use it. How much a user reads (and reflects on) before using the exercises is guided by how competent they feel about their own self-reflection and the needs of their group. But it goes without saying that using this resource should be preceded by a reflection on just how competent one is to use the exercises proposed.
  • This manual asks those who read it to be translators, not necessarily from one language to another, but from one context to another. Those working with the resources developed in the manual, and especially in this chapter, will have to supplement the information provided with information from, for example, their own national institutions, NGOs and local contexts. In addition, it is important for users to decide where different perspectives do not fit their experience and youth work context, and to adapt and substitute examples, ideas and explanations.
  • Finally, working on gender, sex, gender-based violence and related issues is an essential part of all youth work because it is something that concerns all young people. The questions and concepts that are addressed through this work are ones that are relevant to young people’s lives and relate directly to the world they live in. This is why these issues have to be addressed and in a way in which young people have the chance to explore them themselves.

4.2 Human rights education - an educational approach

Before you work with these activities, it is important to understand the educational approach within which the manual and the activities included in this chapter have been developed, namely human rights education. The underlying approach to human rights education is the same as the one outlined in Compass, and for the users less familiar with Compass, there are a few points, in particular, worth reading.

Human rights education is about education for change, both personal and social. It is about developing young people’s competence to be active citizens who participate in their communities to promote and protect human rights. The focus is the educational process of developing knowledge, skills, values and attitudes that are relevant for acting positively on behalf of human rights, and specifically in the area of gender related human rights or when gender-based violence is concerned.

Human rights education can, therefore, be defined as

  • ...educational programmes and activities that focus on promoting equality in human dignity, in conjunction with other programmes such as those promoting intercultural learning, participation and empowerment of minorities.[2]

In this process we:

  • start from what people already know, from their opinions and experiences, and from this base enable them to search for, and discover together, new ideas and experiences;
  • encourage the participation of young people to contribute to discussions and to learn from each other as much as possible;
  • encourage people to translate their learning into simple but effective actions that demonstrate their rejection of injustice, inequality and violations of human rights.

4.2.1 Knowledge, skills, attitudes and values supporting human rights education

In order for young people to work in the defence of human rights and towards a deeper understanding of human rights issues, they need certain kinds of knowledge and skills. They also need to develop relevant attitudes and values. In terms of knowledge, young people need to develop an understanding of the main concepts and the historical development of human rights, as well as the standards demanded by the main instruments and mechanisms for human rights protection. This means knowing about one’s own rights and the way they interact with other people’s rights, as well as how to defend one’s own rights and those of others. In terms of skills, young people need to be able to communicate about and advocate for human rights in public and private, to critically assess situations in terms of human rights and reflect on what constitutes an abuse of human rights, to deal with conflict and learn to transform it in a constructive manner, and to take an active and constructive role in their communities. Finally, in terms of attitudes and values, young people need to be committed to the protection of human dignity, to develop empathy and solidarity for others and to acquire a sense of justice and responsibility for their own actions and those of others.

Knowing about human rights, gender issues and gender-based violence is very important, but not enough to ensure that young people are able to contribute constructively to the defence of human rights, especially those related to gender.

It is necessary that young people have a far deeper understanding about how these human rights evolve out of people’s needs and why they have to be protected. For example, young people with no direct experience of gender-based violence may think that the issue is of no concern to them. From a human rights perspective this position is not acceptable. People everywhere have a responsibility to protect the human rights of others, including those related to gender. It does not matter whether the right to life or freedom to determine one’s own reproductive future is under discussion. Human rights are about democratic values, respect and tolerance. Educational activities which aim to address gender related human rights must create a learning environment that respects these values.

Human rights issues, including those which are gender related, are controversial because different people have different value systems and therefore see rights and responsibilities in different ways. These differences, which manifest themselves as conflicts of opinion, are the basis of our educational work.

Two important aims of human rights education are

  • to equip young people with the skills of appreciating - but not necessarily agreeing with - different points of view about an issue;
  • to help young people to develop skills in finding mutually agreeable solutions to problems.

This manual and its activities are based on an understanding that conflicts of opinion can be used constructively for the learning process, provided that the facilitator feels confident in addressing possible conflicts in a group. As in many non-formal educational activities, the purpose is not so much that everyone agrees with a given result, but rather that the participants can also learn from that process (e.g. listening to each other, expressing themselves, respecting differences of opinion, etc.).

4.2.2 Experiential learning – a basis for human rights education

These competencies, especially the skills and values of communication, critical thinking, advocacy, tolerance and respect, cannot be taught: they have to be learned through experience. This is why all the activities included in this chapter promote co-operation, participation and learning through experience, in addition to treating the sensitive issues around gender and gender-based violence. We aim to encourage young people to think, feel and act, and to engage their heads, hearts and hands in the defence of gender related human rights.

Cooperation, experience and participation are all essential to the activities that we propose in this manual. Learning in these activities takes place because the young people who participate in them have the chance to cooperate with each other during the learning process, to have an experience they can analyse in light of the realities they would like to change and to participate actively in the learning process. These activities demand participation and involvement so that the people doing them gain an experience through which they learn not only with their heads but also with their hearts and hands. These sorts of activities are sometimes called ‘games’ because they are fun and people play them with enthusiasm. We prefer to use the term ‘exercise’ because it expresses the fact that such activities are not ‘just for fun’, but they are purposeful means to achieve educational aims.

For this reason, the exercises proposed in this manual have been developed in respect of the ‘experiential learning cycle’[3]. It is not sufficient to simply ‘do’ an activity (phase 1 of the learning cycle). It is essential to follow through with debriefing and evaluation to enable people to reflect on what happened (phase 2), to evaluate their experience (phases 3 & 4) and to go on to decide what to do next (phase 5). In this way they come round to phase 1 of the next cycle in the learning process. In a school setting, activities can help break down artificial barriers between subjects and provide ways of extending links between subject and interest areas to promote a more holistic approach to an issue. In a non-formal educational setting, activities can awaken interest in issues and, because they promote learning in a non-didactic way, they are often intrinsically more acceptable to young people.

The following exercises offer a framework and structure to group experiences, allowing you to work within the limits of your own and the young peoples’ experience and competencies. When carefully facilitated, such activities are an effective method of learning within a task-orientated setting.

4.2.3 Facilitating human rights education in various settings.

In this manual we use the word ‘facilitators’ for the people who prepare, present and coordinate the exercises for participants. A facilitator is someone who helps people discover how much knowledge they already have, who encourages them to learn more and helps them explore their own potential. Facilitation means creating an environment in which people learn, experiment, explore and grow. It is a process of sharing, of giving and taking. It is not a question of one person, who is ‘an expert’, giving knowledge and skills to others. You may find it helpful to reflect on your own style and practice in order to develop your facilitation skills, especially if you are not yet experienced in dealing with issues related to gender or gender-based violence in the educational work you do with young people.

This manual and the exercises it proposes can be used in extra-curricular activities, on a training course or a seminar, at a summer camp, in a work camp, in a youth club or with a youth group that meets regularly. They can also be used at school in a classroom. They can even be used if you work mostly with adults. Nevertheless, the educational approach and the types of activities described in this manual may seem easier to apply in the non-formal sector than in the formal sector. We believe, however, that the exercises can be useful in both.

4.3 Using the exercises

4.3.1 Choosing exercises

This chapter compiles exercises for training and facilitation that cover different gender issues and aspects of gender-based violence.

Some of the exercises will be similar or close to other exercises that you or your group may already be familiar with. In general, the exercises have been newly developed or adapted from previous experiences or publications. If an exercise has been adapted and the source is known, it has been stated at the beginning of the activity.

You should choose activities that are at the right level for you and your group and that will fit into the time you have. Read the activity through carefully at least twice and try to imagine how the group may react and some of the things they will say. Make sure you have all the materials you will need. Check that there will be enough space, especially if the participants will be breaking up for small-group work.

Again we emphasise that the instructions for each activity are only guidelines and that you should use the material in the way that suits your own needs. Indeed, it is not possible to write activities that will exactly suit every situation across Europe. We expect you to adapt the activities. For example, you might take the basic idea from one activity and use a method from another. Each activity is presented in a standard format.

4.3.2 Key to the presentation of the exercises

Level of complexity

Levels 1 to 4 indicate the general level of competency required, in intellectual and emotional terms, for participation and / or the amount of preparation involved, as well as the level of challenge for the participants and facilitator involved in the activity. In general, the two variables go together: level 1 activities need very little preparation and demand little emotional competence from both participants and facilitator, while those activities at level 4 need much more.

Level 1

These are short, simple activities, mostly useful as starters. Energisers and icebreakers fall into this category. Nonetheless, these activities are of value in the way that they make people interact and communicate with each other.

Level 2

These are simple activities designed to stimulate interest in an issue. They do not require prior knowledge of human rights issues or developed personal or group work skills. Many of the activities at this level are designed to help people develop communication and group work skills while at the same time stimulating their interest in human rights.

Level 3

These are longer activities designed to develop deeper understanding and insights into an issue. They demand higher levels of competency in discussion or group work skills.

Level 4

These activities are longer, require good group work and discussion skills, concentration and co-operation from the participants and also take longer to prepare for. They are also more embracing in that they provide a wider and deeper understanding of the issues.

Overview and themes

This gives brief information about the type of activity and the issues addressed, including any themes that are focused on during the activity.

Group size

This indicates the ideal number of people (including minimum and maxiumum) needed in order to do the activity.


This is the estimated time in minutes needed to complete the whole activity, including the (pre- and / or post-activity) discussion.


These outline the learning the exercise hopes to achieve for participants in terms of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values.


This is a list of equipment needed to run the exercise.


This is a list of things the facilitator needs to do or prepare before starting the exercise.


This is a list of instructions for how to run the exercise.

Debriefing and evaluation

This section includes suggested questions to help the facilitator to conduct the debriefing and to evaluate the activity (phase 2-4 of the experiential learning cycle).

Tips for facilitators

These include guidance notes, things to be aware of, especially for the debriefing of the activity, information on possible variations in running the activity, and extra background information relevant to the activity or where to find more information on the themes addressed by the exercise.

Suggestions for follow-up

These include ideas for what to do next and links to other activities that are relevant for dealing with the theme.

Ideas for action

These include suggestions, relating to the issues and themes addressed, for next steps to take action on.


These include role cards, action pages, background reading material, discussion cards, other materials that should be given to participants in the context of the exercise, etc.

4.3.3 Advice for the facilitation of the exercises presented in this manual

As explained above, we use the term ‘facilitators’ to describe the role of the people (trainers, teachers, youth workers, peer educators, youth volunteers) who prepare and run the exercises. This terminology helps to emphasise that educational work on the themes of gender and gender-based violence requires a democratic and participative approach. We assume that you are facilitating groups of young people, for example in a classroom, in a youth club, on a training course, at a youth camp or at a seminar.

What follows are both general facilitation tips for work with any kind of youth group and specific advice for working with the highly sensitive issues addressed by Gender Matters. Many different approaches to facilitation exist. All require sensitivity to the contexts of the participants and to their special situations and needs. All can be adapted to specific circumstances with a little effort. However, the facilitation of groups dealing with issues of gender and especially gender-based violence requires particular sensitivity.

In this section, we also address the specificity of facilitation within distinct forms of youth work that are appropriate for working on such issues, such as youth work with young boys or girls and single sex youth work.

Running exercises on sensitive issues such as gender-based violence

Ethical considerations belong in any educational activity that brings people together, and these ethical considerations are heightened when issues of identity and power are present, as in the case of many of the activities dealing with gender or gender-based violence. We therefore strongly suggest that before undertaking activities dealing with gender based violence you read section 3.2.5 of this manual, entitled ‘Ethics and competence in gender training’. It will provide you with valuable advice and useful guidelines for dealing with this sensitive topic in an appropriate manner with participants of your educational activity. We also suggest that you take time to read and understand section 1.2.3 of this manual, as it will help to put such ethical considerations in context in relation to the broader issue of gender.

In addition, there are several important issues to take into consideration when beginning to work with the issue of gender and gender-based violence with groups of young people, and in particular when making decisions on which exercises from this manual to choose:

Gender is a politically sensitive issue

Gender related issues and problems in society can be a highly charged political issue. Issues such as equal rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people or the rights of young women to determine their reproductive destinies have caused significant and often acrimonious debates in the public and political sphere between people of different political persuasions, as well as between people of different cultural and social backgrounds. Closer to home, persons of authority surrounding young people (parents, teachers and professional youth workers, for example) may have objections to certain issues being discussed or raised in the context of youth work or leisure time activities (for example, speaking about sex). You need to be aware of this before beginning to work on the issues with young people and when choosing the exercises from this manual that you want to use in your youth group. You also have to make sure that your organisation supports you and that its policies and approaches are not in contradiction with the work you want to do.

Cultural difference matters, too

The cultural background of the members of the group you are working with on issues of gender and gender-based violence is an important factor in choosing your approach and the exercises you will use. In certain communities, specific gender related issues (such as sex, relationships and sexuality) are taboo and should not be spoken about in public or in mixed-sex settings. Young people who have been brought up in such cultural communities may have difficulties, therefore, to engage in open discussion about such issues directly, especially if members of the other sex are present. In addition, the existence of domestic violence and sexual abuse is often denied in traditional (as well as modern-secular) communities. The socialisation of a given participant in this relation will influence whether they will be willing to discuss or resistant to engaging with the exercises you propose. The importance of cultural background can also, however, be overestimated. Not all young people who come from ‘traditional communities’ will have difficulties to engage with these issues. A person’s social background (e.g. coming from a low-income, low-education background) can often be more relevant to how they deal with sexuality, for example, than religion. But the fact that the young people you work with may come from very diverse cultural and social backgrounds, each of which may have a specific way of dealing with the issues, means that you have to consider the intercultural nature of your group in the development of your educational programmes and in the choice of the exercises you propose.

Different types of youth work can be used for different purposes

Educational work on the subject of gender-based violence and other gender related issues can be conducted in the context of so-called ‘general youth work’, but it is not the same as doing specific human rights education on the issue of gender with young people. In the first place, you have to consider your own reasons for undertaking to work on the issues in the context of general youth work. What is the relevance and need for addressing such issues in that context? Why do the young people you are working with want to or need to address such issues? What are your educational objectives in undertaking the exploration of such issues? Before you start you have to think about such questions, and the answer to them will lead you to reflect on the kind of youth work that is most effective for your purposes.

You may find, on reflection, that other types of youth work than the ‘general’ are more effective for your group and its needs, and that it is better to undertake human rights education on issues related to gender in the context of specific target groups. Throughout this manual we have made reference to three specific target groups that this kind of youth work may be conducted with: single-sex groups, LGBT and mixed groups. It is important to consider the way in which you want to form groups, considering your educational objectives at any given time. For example, when wishing to engage the members of your group on the issue of female sexuality, you may consider beginning with work in single-sex groups to try to avoid embarrassment or that participants feel forced into discussing something they do not feel comfortable about with members of the other sex. Chapter 3 of this manual deals specifically with the utility single-sex groups.

Finally, while you may consciously decide to engage in youth work with one or other target group for reasons relating to the specificity of the context you are working in, you also have to consider that you can never fully know ‘who is in the room’. For example, even if working with an all female group, you may not be aware of the sexual preferences of all its members. Therefore, you must also take into account that within single-sex and mixed groups, there always exists a modicum of diversity that may complicate the dynamics. Unfortunately, the oppressed and marginalised are not immune to prejudice any more than members of the privileged classes or the majority. The most important thing is to remember that everyone needs to feel comfortable and respected if they are going to engage fully.

Disclosure may take place

Noting that one can never fully know ‘who is in the room’, one will also acknowledge that there is no guarantee whatsoever that a given participant of your activity has not experienced sexual or relationship abuse or another form of gender-based violence. While creating a safe space for participants to discuss sensitive issues related to gender and gender-based violence is of paramount importance to beginning to work on the issues with young people, you have to be prepared for the fact that creating such a safe space may lead young people to ‘disclose’ a painful past experience of gender-based violence. When this happens, it can be difficult for everyone concerned – the participant disclosing, the other participants and the facilitator.

It is difficult for a facilitator to prepare in advance for dealing with such a situation in the group. The participant may get very emotional, as might other participants listening to their story. Therefore you should consider the following:

  • It is imperative not to interrupt or try to stop the participant.
  • Make sure you hear the participant through as far as they are willing to go.
  • A good way to diffuse the situation is to call for a break and tell everyone to go and freshen up.
  • Pay special attention to the participant in question and make sure they are not left alone if they do not want to be. You or another member of the team they trust might accompany them to another room to calm down and freshen up. They may need a short time away from the group, or alone.
  • It may be necessary, either immediately or at a later point, to come back to the disclosure and speak about the fact that it took place in the whole group.
  • Whatever you and your team decide to do, the decision should be made in consultation with the participant who made the disclosure. This also goes for how the disclosure is to be dealt with in the group.

Finally, disclosure in the context of youth work is not only a matter of dealing with a complicated group dynamic or an emotionally charged situation. When a participant discloses an experience they have had, the act of which constituted a crime (rape, sexual abuse, grievous bodily harm), then you may be obliged to inform the relevant authorities (police, social services, etc). You need to remain properly informed of your legal obligations if such a case arises. At the very least, and confidentiality notwithstanding, you have to tell your superior (whether that is the president of your organisation, the senior youth worker or your line manger or employer) and you will have to decide together if further action is necessary. Of course, under such circumstances, you must keep the participant concerned fully informed and try to ensure that your action does not put them at any further risk.

General facilitation advice and information resources

Beyond the above considerations, you might find it useful to consider some general advice on facilitation of different kinds of youth work activity. An excellent exposé on how to facilitate human rights education activities can be found in Compass[4]. Further information on training in general can be found in the T-Kit ‘Training Essentials’[5]. In addition, the following manuals created by other organisations are worth consulting if you are interested in familiarizing yourself with a variety of approaches to the facilitation of activities on gender and gender-based violence issues.

  • “Shortcuts to Gender Equality: Methods and strategies regarding young people’s leisure and associative activities”, The Swedish National Board for Youth Affairs[6];
  • “Empowering Young Women to Lead Change - A training manual”, World Young Women’s Christian Association[7];
  • “Human Trafficking: Our Response – Manual for Peer Education”, ASTRA[8];
  • “Training Manual on Gender Based Violence”, FEMNET[9].

In addition, the following manual produced by the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), entitled ‘Positively Informed: Lesson Plans and Guidance for Sexuality Educators and Advocates’[10] has an excellent ‘Additional Resources’ section that is usefully organised according to different strands of educational work on gender related issues (for example, ‘general sexuality education’ or ‘relationships’). This will be particularly helpful for additional background information on specific issues within the complex of gender issues one might address with young people.


[2] Official definition of Human Rights Education by the Council of Europe Youth Programme (Directorate of Youth and Sport).

[3] For further information on the experiential learning cycle and on the steps to learning that are entailed in its five phases, we suggest you consult the following general non-formal education and youth work facilitation resources: T-kit - Training Essentials – and Compass – The ‘experiential learning cycle’ – Kolb.

[4] , pages 38 - 62