The purpose of open youth work is to support young people in their interests and skills, make them programme offers for social participation and provide them with a learning environment for democratic and social action. In Germany, open youth work is usually carried out by independent youth welfare organisations and takes place in youth clubs / youth centres. The equipment and facilities at the youth centres varies greatly and is usually dependent on allocations from municipal budgets.
In recent years, the importance of youth work for primary and secondary prevention for right-wing extremism, militant Islamism and group-focused enmity has been frequently pointed out. Social workers in youth clubs are local people the youth know and trust and who spend time with adolescents over a longer period of time. Provided there is corresponding financial support, these people who instill trust locally are in a good position when vulnerable young people come under the influence of right-wing extremist or militant Islamist movements and show increasing signs of radicalisation. External professional consulting services (cf. Hako_reJu_recommendations) could effectively support them in this endeavour.
In open youth work, it has also been frequently demonstrated how important it is to talk to vulnerable young men and women about gender roles and what is masculine and feminine. It is particularly important to elicit the extent to which these roles have contributed to the fascination which has developed for extremist groups and their activities and behaviours. It has proven to be extremely effective even for moderate young people, who at most seem prone to the most widely held forms of populism, to not only talk about gender roles, but also about different sexual orientations. What views and attitudes do they have towards homosexual people in everyday life?
Less stable youth are exactly those individuals who are not only prone to homophobic sentiments, but also to sexist attitudes. To that effect, the requirement of youth work is clearly regulated by law: “In the development of services and completion of tasks are (…) 3. taking into consideration the different life situations of girls and boys to reduce inequalities and promote equality between girls and boys.” (§ 9 SGB VIII). Especially in rural areas there are usually too few programme offers for girls and young women that could encourage and appeal to their interests and abilities. Indirectly, this will also mean that it is exactly those ambitious and talented young women who predominantly leave rural areas. The remaining social environment may be even more affected by sexist attitudes which also makes it more susceptible to racism and right-wing extremism.
The proportion of girls and boys in youth clubs varies depending on the facilities and amenities and also depends on the gender of the social workers engaged at the club. Particularly in rural areas, youth clubs are often boys clubs. The amenities – which may also only consist of a basketball hoop in the yard, a pool table and table football or possibly a band rehearsal room – do not appeal to girls. The boys club character is enhanced when exclusively male social workers are employed or male-dominated cliques spend time there.
The often unappealing aesthetic design can also ensure that girls are more likely to seek out their own safe havens where they can spend time alone with friends. At most, they then visit youth clubs together with male friends and partners. Youth workers continually state that it is extremely difficult to get through to girls. Often, they are also not able to make a statement about how the girls react to the extremist attitude of their male peers, whether they share them or distance themselves from them. In order for open youth to appeal equally to boys and girls it is – among other things – important that the existing positions are filled with mixed gender groups.
In more urban areas, one can observe that there are increasingly more girls-specific youth centres which pursue the goal of gender-specific empowerment, i.e., to promote strengthening the social and creative skills of girls and support them in family conflict situations. These centres are often visited by girls with migrant backgrounds whose cultures of origin are characterised by very wide-ranging disadvantages and restrictions of for women and girls. Contexts of forced marriage and honor-related crimes require a high level of consulting expertise and youth worker support as well as well-networked cooperation between various assistance agencies.
General observations about working with girls/women in mixed gender groups
(1) The following general gender roles and circumstances can be found for girls with links to right-wing extremist environment contexts:
- the unobtrusive friend / partner, who primarily sees herself as a companion for male group members and is perceived as such. She does not participate – or only indirectly, partially or in hidden ways – in the actions and deeds of the male members.
- the equal group participant, who takes the same forms of action, responsibilities and functions in the group as the male members – and also carries them out independently.
- girls / young women from a disadvantaged background. While this is true for the majority of both female and male members in the extreme right milieu, some girls-specific disadvantages, however, are more clearly pronounced, particularly as a result of internal scene ideas about the supposed inequality of the sexes. In the extreme right milieu, problematic family circumstances are, on the whole, caused by small, fragile families in which many family members are not present and little family influence and help is given.
- Right-wing oriented women among interns, staff and social work students. Young woman with extreme right-wing attitudes and affiliations are becoming increasingly active in degree programmes and areas of youth work practice among the interns, staff and students – and have also been deliberately placed there.
(2) The following general gender roles and circumstances can be found for girls with links to militant Islamist environment contexts:
- the consciously traditionally oriented young woman (Neo-Muslima), who does not consider the partly restrictive and confining bind to her family to have a a significantly negative impact. She is proud of her headscarf and the values and behaviours she associates with it and attempts to also make this obligatory for others. Some of these girls and young women hold this position very strongly. Still others go so far as to incite family reprisals against liberal-oriented girls.
- the liberal-oriented young woman from a more secular family. Unlike right-wing rural environments, there can sometimes be a wide variety of attitudes and opinion in urban youth centres visited by young women with migrant backgrounds. Therefore, it is more likely to occur that liberal-minded young women, who are aware of and make use of their comparatively great freedom, may possibly come into conflict with more traditionally oriented girls.
- the young woman stuck in traditional / archaic conditions, who, in all of her family relations, experiences the restrictions imposed on her by the male family members as a painful oppression. There is a risk of forced marriage and extensive honor crimes.
- girls/young women from disadvantaged backgrounds. Compared to the extreme right milieu, this group is not as large since there are more middle-class families in the Islamist milieu. Problematic family circumstances in Islamist milieus are not so much characterised by small, fragile families – as is the case in right-wing extremist milieus – but rather through large and, in some cases, controlling or intrusive families
Fundamental principles for gender-reflective youth work
- pay special attention to sexist and homophobic comments
- partisan youth work with a focus on co-educational objectives
- non-discriminatory treatment of types of sexual orientation and gender identity in youth centres
- actively reflect on existing gender relations
- foster awareness of alternative gender roles
- strengthen tolerating ambivalence with regard to sexual orientation and gender – as well as the general enhancement of binary oppositions existing in society
Gender perspectives in youth work
- female and male team members
- reflect on one’s own ideas about gender roles in the team
- professional expertise exchange about possibilities of gender-oriented work with adolescents belonging to various groups
- further training on the importance of gender in right-wing extremism, religious fundamentalism and movements hostile to human rights
- create girls/boys rooms
- when decorating, include pictures/posters, etc. which depict alternative gender identities (e.g. female football players)
- place emphasis on developing rules together with the adolescents in terms of sexist language and manners
Structure of programme offers
- make programme offers gender-sensitive : for example, if dancing is offered for girls and street soccer for boys , the possibilities of a coeducation mix / extension should be created and the discussions held on the effects of gender roles in society
- partisan boy and girl work that shakes up gender: create new coeducational experiential spaces (dancing for boys and street soccer for girls)
- gender-reflective programme offers: e.g. adventure-based learning projects with discussion afterward about the way girls and boys acted and behaved in certain situations
- conscious experience of self-determination in conflict situations (empowerment ), e.g. through didactic work with relevant case histories
- Cross-work: female workers work with boys groups, male workers work with girls groups, e.g. adventure camps for boys under female supervision