Project Stand Up (PSU) is a youth led initiative focused on improving access to and participation in education, particularly for girls.

Is a girl or woman’s place really at home? Women/girls all around the world face challenges in all aspects related to their lives. They are assigned roles by society, including what they can wear, how they are supposed to behave, and are even given limits on what they can dream of achieving.

These gender stereotypes are believed to be right by people in communities and are reinforced within communities.  From our experience, and societal norms within our community, we find there is an expectation of girls to plan to be at home and start a family after finishing high school and to not go outside at night. We also see that girls/women are told they cannot be leaders and have responsibilities at home such as cooking, cleaning, and childcare that make it difficult for them to participate in other activities they may be interested in. Our experience is similar to studies we see around the world.

For example, UNHCR’s “Her Turn,” report finds refugee girls at secondary level are only half as likely to enrol as their male peers. This is because male students are prioritised because they will work in the future and girls are expected to stay at home. This is why female youth aged 15-29 are 3 times more likely than male youth to be outside the labour force (survey of 34 countries). Once a girl who is out of school becomes economically inactive, she tends to remain there. (source: UNICEF)

It’s important to note that boys and young men also face gender stereotypes too. From our experience, boys are expected to shoulder the responsibility of making sure there is money and are told to manage the finances; boys are supposed to be strong and defend their family; and boys are also given more freedom to go outside and can do their activities freely.

When the norm in a society is that girls/women are supposed to stay at home it means two things:

  • when a girl/woman tries to do something outside the house, she and her family are judged badly and,
  • it means girls/woman have fewer opportunities to explore and become good at things they like doing and developing their skills.

While we see gender stereotypes affect girls and women’s ability to learn who they are, we similarly see that gender stereotypes for boys/men make it difficult for them to express themselves.

As boys/men are often told they have to ‘Be Strong,’ they cannot always process or share their feelings. As a result, they end up showing their feelings in more harmful ways, such as with behaviours like addiction, alcoholism, or becoming abusive. Not being allowed to show emotions can mean they can only show anger, which can lead to gender- based violence. Gender norms reinforce gender stereotypes, which makes it difficult for girls, boys, women and men to always, truly express themselves.

Project Stand Up (PSU) started to form in 2017 when we saw there was interest from girls in our community to play football but there were no girls team or history of girls playing football existed.  It was started by a group of young people studying in a Development Studies class at the Fugee School along with their teacher. Usually, only boys in the community played football, but there were girls who wanted to have the same opportunity but were not able to because of norms in the community, therefore, a girls’ team did not exist.

A group of young people, the same group that went on to create PSU, decided to bring boys and parents together to discuss creating a girls’ football team. They recognised the importance of getting buy-ins and support from both parents and boys, so girls would feel comfortable, safe, and supported to sign-up to play. We were amazed at how supportive both the parents and boys were! They were mostly concerned about the girls’ safety, so by addressing those concerns, a girls’ football team was created. 

Astonishingly, more girls’ teams were started in the community and then we started to compete against one another. Accordingly, the boys’ mindsets changed, they saw girls who could play really well and even compete with them. Boys changed from initially telling girls that they cannot do it to supporting them to do it. This change was most memorable because it was a change that everyone could actually see and that had an impact because more girls actually started playing football.  And when the team won their first tournament with less than 8 months of actual training, their level of confidence skyrocketed.

If we had accepted the gender norm in our community that said girls shouldn’t play football, there would have been a huge number of lost opportunities. Gender stereotypes can make people feel limited and hold them back in reaching their full potential. They can make people feel frustrated and disempowered as they are not given the chance to show what they can truly do. PSU works to make sure opportunities exist for girls to explore their interests and we also involve young men in our work to ensure girls and young women are supported by them as well. 

There are many reasons as to why gender stereotypes exist. Firstly, it’s hard to change the way how things have always been done. For a long-time in our community, boys were prioritized to get an education and this was passed down through generations.

Secondly, there are limited opportunities and spaces for people to discuss gender within the community. This is because of the assumption that it’s something that should not be talked about because it’s part of religion, and thus debate on culture and religion would happen, and to avoid any discontent, the safest way is not to talk about it.

Additionally, not many initiatives or organisations exist, especially ones that are focused on bringing people together to talk about gender. We see in most cases, organisations that do talk about gender tend to have an approach focused on girls and women, leaving behind boys and men. This can develop fear of the discussion, or result in men not wanting it to be talked about.

Even if the points above were provided, families in our community are more focused on their survival and essential needs, even education sometimes has to take a back seat, so this is another reason gender stereotypes and gender norms are reinforced.

Despite the above reasons, PSU believes it’s an extremely important topic that should be discussed, so girls and young women’s talents can be realised and opportunities for them to learn and develop new skills are prioritised. At PSU we recommend that this should done by including boys and young men in conversations and programs related to gender – to give them the chance to be allies rather than foes! 

PSU’s plans for the future include providing more opportunities for refugee youths, particularly girls, to speak up and participate in initiating solutions to issues that matter most to them through our programs.

We also recommend involving young people in these conversations and in programs and initiatives. Young people are great at asking questions adults cannot ask and bringing different people within a community together.

To learn more about how PSU does this, you can follow us on social media; you can help us expand our work by donating to our initiative, and you can also send us an email to discuss potential collaborations.

PSU Social Media and Contact Information:

To donate to PSU, you can go to this link: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/project-stand-up-youth-leadership-program/

Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels

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