Engaging youth in participatory dialogue
Young people have the power to change the future - specifically, the future of their communities and the role that sexism and gender discrimination plays in their daily lives and the development challenges they face. Adolescent girls and boys that are empowered, well-informed and self-confident can influence the attitudes and mindsets of their peers and community members, and help to break the intergenerational cycle of gender-based discrimination and violence.
So how does it work, and what do we talk about?
We engage young people in critical thinking and reflection exercises through interactive conversations, workshops, activities and games, using a "safe space" approach. A "safe space" simply means that the emotional and physical environment is safe and comfortable for them to engage; in other words, all participants must feel respected and accepted for who they are, everyone must understand that all ideas and opinions have value, and no one should be judged or alienated for their contributions or experiences.
In this environment, adolescents are more easily able to open up about and reflect upon their daily lives in terms of gender roles, power dynamics, interpersonal relationships between boys and girls, gender-based violence, human rights and community leadership for social change. In most cases, this is the first time these young people have ever been prompted or encouraged to speak openly and honestly about these social issues that have a tremendous impact on their everyday lives. Through this process, their critical thinking abilities develop and further contribute to the growth of their personal confidence, which sets them up well to become strong advocates for equality and influential role models for others.
How do we work differently with both girls and boys?
Adolescent girls face entirely different life challenges than adolescent boys during their teen years. Girls are in a uniquely vulnerable position due to gender norms in their families and cultures that create barriers and limitations for them across many areas of their lives. These areas include education, health, violence, economic empowerment and personal self-confidence and development. In light of this, we focus on building the knowledge, awareness and confidence levels of girls in separate groups, before integrating them with boys, so that they can develop a sense of solidarity with other girls facing the same issues, understand their rights and feel they are able to engage with boys on equal footing.
We don't want to risk reproducing the same gender inequalities and discrimination in our activities, so we also engage boys directly on their own, to sensitize them in advance to gender norms and power dynamics, and how this impacts their treatment of and relationships with girls. After this stage, we can safely and respectfully integrate the two groups into one youth-led movement that is able to influence the attitudes and mindsets of both their male and female peers and others around them.
Community outreach clubs
The power of our clubs lies in the ripple effect of peer-to-peer learning that can have a major impact on the social change we want to see.
Our community clubs model empowers young people to become vocal advocates for gender equality and social justice in their own families, schools and communities. After developing the foundational knowledge and capacity of adolescent girls and boys, we support them in establishing their own advocacy clubs within their schools or communities. These clubs are owned and driven by the young people themselves and allow them to take their new skills and knowledge and put them into practice on the ground. These clubs have unique names and identities with clear objectives and values, and a common vision shared among the club members for the social impact they want to make.
Our community clubs model can be adapted to suit many different contexts. While we create and support our own Paper Crown clubs with various groups of girls that we work with, we also partner with NGOs and other organizations who are already doing great work in the field and are looking to supplement their activities with an intervention that focuses on positive gender equality outcomes for their beneficiaries.
In-depth capacity building projects
If your foundation is strong, you can stand taller than you ever thought possible.
Giving girls a space to have their voices heard, and to understand that their unique perspectives have intrinsic value and worth, can change the game for them completely. Our 3-month in-depth capacity building projects are the cornerstone of what we do and have changed the lives of many adolescent girls since we launched. This model has evolved over time, and prioritizes the core principles that are at the heart of Paper Crown, which champion the importance of critical thinking, self-love and confidence, and being a community leader. Our unique approach involves six weeks of participatory training modules with a select group of girls, followed by six weeks of small-scale community development projects that are designed and driven by the girls themselves, under the guidance of the Paper Crown project team and with the support of Rwandan young women mentors. These 3-month projects fully immerse girls in the process of continuous self-reflection and interactive learning, raising their personal self-confidence to new heights and preparing them to embrace the powerful role of becoming a community leader and advocate for gender equality.
Once these projects are complete, the girls are then bridged into a community club to sustain the positive impact of their experience and to foster community leadership and peer-to-peer learning to take their advocacy to the next level.
Engaging adults as role models and shapers of norms
While our focus is primarily on youth, we also engage adult men and women in participatory dialogue around gender norms, violence and discrimination. We have worked with teachers, professionals, parents and other community members to help educate and sensitize adults to the harm caused by discriminatory gender norms and violence, harm which affects children, spouses, families and entire communities.