Here’s how you can make a difference:
The social well-being of boys includes gaining the capacity to develop healthy and equal relationships with girls and boys, women and men, friends, family and colleagues alike. As a coach and a community leader, you have the opportunity to provide the boys around you with the means and the tools to develop relationships that are based on respect and equality.
Sports are also about building character, not just skills building. It’s important to create clear and attainable standards of behaviour for your players. Let them know at the beginning of the season that sexist and homophobic language is not welcome in the locker room or on the field. Help them understand what kind of behaviour you expect from them and create a team culture that respects women and all people.
Engage community partners. Addressing issues of violence and promoting healthy relationships can be challenging, and the more support you have from the people and organizations around you the easier and more effective your efforts will be. Here are some examples of possible allies you may find around you to help reinforce and promote positive messages about gender equality: league administrators, coaching associations, youth organizations; community centres; women’s organizations; equity committee; parents; school board; unions. Build trusting relationships with the boys in your group and other personnel in order to support activities highlighting gender equality. Have an open discussion with your colleagues about the importance of including gender equality in your work, the types of activities you are planning, and the goals you are trying to achieve. This will help create an environment where everyone feels part of a group effort to ensure boys and girls’ equality, safety, and well-being.
Remember and commemorate important dates.
Organize league or community-wide activities for your team or group to observe or participate in the International Women’s Day (March 8), the International Day Against Homophobia (May 17), Women’s History Month (October), the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (November 25), and Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women (December 6). Visit the website of the White Ribbon Campaign to learn how to start a campaign in your community.
Develop ground rules and promote equality values.
Address difficult situations of gender inequality by referring back to the values, principles, and ground rules you developed at the beginning of the season. Invite participants to provide input into the ground rules and identify consequences. Ensure that those rules establish clear principles and expectations to promote healthy equal relationships and equality between men and women. Review them on an ongoing basis to ensure they are fresh in everyone’s minds. Be aware of your own biases and language use.
It’s easy to continue using language and behaviours we’ve seen others use. Using phrases like “you throw like a girl” reinforce the idea that women are inferior to men. A lot of what we’ve learned from sports is extremely positive but we need to examine the aspects that promote gender stereotypes.
Foster leadership in boys and male colleagues.
Invite participants and colleagues to convene a committee to plan and organize team, group, or community-based activities to raise awareness about gender equality and violence against women. Model gender equality by inviting female participants and colleagues to join the committee and work alongside with you to raise awareness about healthy equal relationships. Actions can speak louder than words. Challenge sexism, homophobia, and degrading language. Boys are exposed on a daily basis to many examples of sexist behaviour, homophobia, and objectification of women. Culture is a powerful tool in reinforcing gender stereotypes both for women and men. Recognize the impact of the media, video games, and popular culture on boys and as such share a new healthier view of masculinity, one that models respect and equality towards women, girls, and other men. Not speaking up contributes to the silence around these issues, and helps to normalize gender inequality and homophobia.
Teach boys the language of equality.
Provide boys with opportunities to learn and practice gender equal language to help counter demeaning messages promoted through popular culture where women and girls are often objectified, and images of masculinity are distorted. Include in your activities opportunities to learn about accessible, positive, and equal language that boys can use in relating to girls and other boys. Develop a gender equality glossary and organize discussions about healthy equal relationships.
Teach good boundaries. Helping boys understand their own boundaries and how to assert them is an important step in helping them understand other people’s boundaries and how to respect them. When boys can connect the feelings they experience when the are bullied, teased, isolated or pushed outside of their comfortable, safe limits with the feelings other people have in similar circumstances this fosters empathy. Feeling empathy reduces the likelihood that a boy will disrespect somebody else’s boundaries whether they’re on the sports field, at home or in a relationship.
Teach the importance of good communication and consent. Discuss with boys how, as a team, communication is key and critical to make things work. This is also the case in other working relationships and mostly in romantic relationships. Communicating and talking is important to make sure everyone is on the same page and can express what they like or don’t like.
Listen to women… learn from women.
Learn about violence and gender inequality by asking a woman who trusts you how violence has affected her life. Then, if she feels comfortable to talk, sit back and listen. Turn to your local women’s organizations. They have a wealth of accumulated experience and knowledge. Talk to them. Read their publications. Contribute financially. Learn from them.
Promote gender equality as a man’s issue. Most violence committed against women is by men. While the majority of men do not condone it, they often do not speak out or make their feelings publicly known. As a result, a culture of silence is created around gender inequality and men’s violence against women. Men need to speak up and reach out to their peers and younger boys to help create a society that values healthy equal relationships. Violence against women is a real concern for all of us.
You may not have all the answers.It’s okay to acknowledge that you don’t know all the answers, that you are not an expert in this topic, and freely admit when you make a mistake. Let your son know that you will look for the right information, and will get back to him later on. Check the links and resources sections of our campaign for additional information, or talk with others. Acknowledging your feelings and weaknesses is a way to demonstrate how to act constructively in building healthy and equal relationships, and it will reduce the pressure on your son to be “perfect” all the time.
Share this link and invite your friends to learn more about violence against women and the positive role they can play in putting an end to it.