Puberty is a phase of getting to know each other anew and trying oneself out. Who am I? How do I understand my identity? How do I have relationships and with whom? What do I want to do when I grow up? Do I want a family? Adolescents deal with all of these and more questions. The project “EQUI-X – Engaging youth at promotion of nonviolent and equitable masculinities” at Dissens – Institute for Education and Research would like to accompany adolescents in answering these and similar questions – and provides important impulses on the topics of gender roles, relationship structures and health behavior. The aim is to support young people in developing gender images of themselves that give them scope for action, shape equal relationships and deal responsibly with their own health.
Children and young people learn at a very early age what the norms of this society are (not only in relation to gender) and what type of behavior is expected of them in what situation. Implicitly and explicitly, norms that can promote violence are imparted from early childhood onwards. For the prevention of violence, it therefore makes sense to deal with the construction of gender roles early: If men* are not allowed to cry and women* are supposed to put the needs of their environment before their own, this is harmful to everyone. By dealing with their own beliefs about gender and relationships, the young people participating in the project become aware of the values and norms that they internalized in their early childhood. Ideas about norms, values and behavioral strategies concerning one’s own and other genders can be consciously discussed and addressed.
EQUI-X works, among other things, with role play and concrete situational examples from the lives of young people, thereby practicing behavior that enables gender-sensitive and non-violent relationships as well as non-violent conflict resolution. Rigid and narrow gender norms are seen as a basis for gender-based violence, as they severely restrict people’s options for action: If male* adolescents are no longer considered uncool, if they do not consume drugs or do not defend their reputation by fighting, and female* adolescents are not described as hysterical, if they express strong emotions and keep their limits, gender justice can be achieved in relationships (and thus also socially in the long term). Therefore, restrictive gender norms are questioned.
The pilot phase of EQUI-X started after the summer holidays in Germany and we are currently working with a group of boys at a Berlin school. The first sessions are mainly about establishing a relationship with the boys so that they can later talk about topics such as violence, sexuality and relationships. The boys were open-minded and particularly interested in the topic of career orientation.