When we decided to set up the GREAT Initiative, a charity that focuses on gender equality, the phrase was something quite new. This year we are already in a position to be able to look back at the past six months and celebrate.
We can celebrate that a small charity such as the GREAT Initiative has influenced legislation which will ensure that UK Aid, reaching millions of people globally, is harnessed to promote greater equality between men and women. We can celebrate that our Government considers gender equality one of the central planks of its overseas policy, as attested by two major global summits in London. We can also celebrate that we have begun to change the attitudes of thousands of young men closer to home.
Last month, we were overwhelmed by the response our work received when The Daily Telegraph profiled our Great Men programme, part of our overall gender equality campaigning at the GREAT Initiative. Through our growing network of young, inspirational male volunteers, who we train to run workshops in London secondary schools as part of Great Men, we are opening up much needed space for young boys to explore their own masculinities and to engage in informed debate about gender equality. The Daily Telegraph article states: "there is at last a growing movement which argues that by including boys and men in discussions about sex, relationships, violence and equality, they will be made to feel like they're part of the solution rather than the problem, which will help expedite change."
We are proud to be part of this movement. The Great Men workshops are currently run in London secondary schools and tackle issues of identity, masculinity and gender relations with teenage boys. All our volunteers are recruited and trained by the GREAT Initiative, and the programme has been designed by leading professionals in the education sector. Great Men is supported by the Big Lottery Fund and the Department of Education. In 2013-14 we exceeded our initial target of reaching 1000 boys, and we are now seeking funding to scale up the programme so that we are able to work in more schools across London, and eventually nationally.
So, why Great Men? Research shows that many of the issues encompassed by the term 'gender inequality,' from domestic violence to the high rate of addiction in young men, are fuelled by gender norms which influence who we are and how we are expected to behave. Violence, addiction, prison, low education expectations, depression and suicide are just some of the consequences of a stereotype of 'masculinity' which promotes the idea that to be a man is to be tough and to be strong, to conceal emotion, to have economic power and domestic authority.
I have observed our Great Men workshops and am amazed to witness how they challenge teenage boys to think critically about male and female stereotypes. The workshop is activity-based and participant-led, giving the boys the chance to talk about these issues freely within the structure of fun. Education has an essential role to play in the promotion of gender equality because so many of the most damaging gender stereotypes are hidden, whether that's within images in the media or the language we choose to use. In an educative setting there's an opportunity to unpick these norms and help the boys form skills to identify them while they are still in a formative stage.
The success of the Great Men project to date includes:
• Recruiting and training 50 diverse adult male volunteers in year one
• Exceeding our Big Lottery target of reaching 1000 boys in year one (we have reached 1400 boys)
• Every school we have delivered a workshop in has asked us to come back to work with more year groups
• We have a waiting list of 15 schools who want us to deliver the workshop next year
• We have overwhelmingly positive feedback from our volunteers, who often describe their engagement with this project as 'life changing'
• We have overwhelmingly positive feedback from teachers and from the boys themselves; our Monitoring and Evaluation has demonstrated both a need for this type of engagement and the effectiveness of our intervention
When you hear students telling the Great Men team that the workshops are "insightful" and are "making a difference" to them and their peers. When you hear teachers saying that we "evoked great discussion" and offered "a safe & understanding environment" for their students to learn in, which in turn enabled them to be confident and to talk openly, to discuss and to question, then we can only strive to do more. We hope to reach more and more boys in the UK to ensure that even if we can't change every mind, we can at least ask these young men, workshop by workshop, school by school, to think about what goes on around them, to question the bigger picture and to make up their own minds, and just maybe we might inspire a generation of Great Young Men.
In order for the GREAT Initiative to continue this invaluable work, donations to the charity are critical. This year we have proved that we can make a big impact, with very little; the Great Initiative is run by a very small team and we have certainly been punching well above of our weight.
To set up a direct debit, please visit http://goo.gl/9WsrH6. To make a text donation, text GNDR14 and the amount you wish to give, i.e. 'GNDR14 £20' to 70070
For more information on Great Men please visit http://www.great-men.org.