*Trigger Warning: This blog contains material about gender-based violence and abuse*
Gender-based violence has gained more and more visibility over the past few years and especially over the past few weeks following the murder of Sarah Everard. As a team, this is a topic close to our hearts and following International Women's Day and Sarah Everards death it has sparked many conversations. Our staff and volunteer team at Oxygen have shared personal experiences of harassment and abuse and we will share quotes throughout this blog. As youth workers we regularly see the impact of gender inequality and how it impacts on young people. There have been many changes in societies perceptions on gender-based violence, many of us have grown up in environments which dismiss harassment and violence against women as ‘boys will be boys’. Despite progress made in gender equality, it is apparent that we still have a long way to go.
“Abuse against women comes in many forms, physical, emotional, mental, controlling and sexual. Unfortunately, I have suffered all of these.” Tracy
When thinking about gender-based violence we often think of physical violence against women first as it the most visible. However, there are many forms of gender-based violence such as emotional abuse and controlling/coersive abuse and it is vital that we recognise these! A survey by Plan International UK showed that 2 out of 3 girls have been sexually harassed in public. Yet public sexual harassment is not considered a criminal offence. There have been many calls for public sexual harassment to become a specific criminal offense. The campaign group ‘Our Streets Now’ started by two sisters, aged 15 and 21 who are calling for a change in the way we understand and view public sexual harassment and to ensure this is considered a form of gender based violence.
What does this mean when it comes to youth work?
We see the impact gender inequality has on the young people we work with, from young people at risk of sexual exploitation to primary school aged girls being aware that they can’t play football at school because there isn’t a girls’ team. A common misconception around gender equality is that it is just about women and girls, but we work with LGBTQ+ young people who experience discrimination because of their identity. We also work with boys and young men to support them with expressing their feelings and emotions as well as encouraging them to hold themselves and each other to a higher standard of behaviour.
Some of the key values which underpin youth work are young people choosing to take part and taking an informal approach to education where we encourage young people to reflect of how they feel about themselves, others, and society. Informal learning is about creating a safe, natural environment in which young people can engage with each other and explore issues relevant to their lives. This means we are always looking for opportunities and ‘teachable moments’ where we can have deeper conversations with young people which can happen anywhere. There have been many occasions where we have sat down doing an arts and crafts activity for example, and the conversation with young people has steered towards Black Lives Matter or gender equality. Or when we have challenged the specific gender stereotypes and toxic masculinity when we hear them. However, there are also occasions where we create spaces specifically to aid these conversations, such as during anti- bullying week when we based our activities around this theme. On a larger scale our What’s the Point? programme is a peer led education programme on knife crime which equips and encourages young people to scrutinise their own choices and hold each other to account.
“I felt very uncomfortable and worried for a long time about walking to the shop at night and even going to meet friends, but now I feel so much better about it all.” Danica
At Oxygen we are passionate about empowering young people and ensuring that their voices are heard! Over the next few months, we will be collecting stories, poems, artwork, collages and much more from young people and our staff and volunteer team and collating them into a zine which will help our supporters see all the ways we are working with young people to help them reflect on their world and consider important issues.