Among Girls. Youth Work, Multiculturalism and Gender Equality

Veronika Honkasalo

(In Finnish: Tyttöjen kesken. Monikulttuurisuus ja sukupuolten tasa-arvo nuorisotyössä)

Finland’s increasingly multicultural society concerns younger generations in a very particular manner. Starting already in pre-school kindergartens, children from different cultural backgrounds share their everyday existence. The focus of this study is Finland’s increasingly multicultural society that has challenged youth work professionals in particular and made them rethink questions related to content, basic values and goals of youth work. These reconsiderations include the following essential questions:  which of these pedagogic principles are defined as Finnish, and under what kinds of circumstances would the youth workers be ready to negotiate about them. These questions, which are related to multiculturalism, are then linked to the girls’ position, status and gender equality. The research examines how gender equality is articulated in relation to multiculturalism and vice versa, in what contexts youth work-related questions are negotiated in, and how these negotiations then relate to gender issues.

The present study combines theoretical concepts and debates from both post-colonial and youth research, and has benefited greatly from previous research which has examined the everyday lives of young people with multi cultural backgrounds and conceptualized the different meanings of age, ethnicity, culture and gender. Neither multiculturalism nor gender equality is, however, taken as a given concept in this study; rather the research focuses on how youth workers understand and define these concepts and how they are used. The emphasis has been on monitoring the varying consequences of different understandings and definitions in terms of everyday work and practices. The goal of this study has been to find typical ways of conceptualizing multiculturalism, gender equality and the role of girls in the context of youth work. The focus of the research is not just the youth workers’ different views but also the notions of the girls themselves. These are then further analyzed by examining the ways the girls negotiate their agency. examples of how the girls’ agency is defined and the different forms of agency that are offered to the girls within the context of leisure time activities and youth work have been sought. The kind of agency the girls then assume is also examined.

The data in this research is comprised of interviews with young people with multicultural backgrounds (n=39), youth workers (n=42) and of ethnographic fieldwork (2003–2005). The fieldwork concentrated on following different types of youth work activities that were targeted at girls with migrant back-grounds. These were organized both by selected municipalities and NgOs.

 The research shows that various questions related to multicultural issues have enhanced the visibility of gender equality in the field of youth work. The identification of gender-based inequality is especially closely linked to the position of girls from migrant backgrounds. These girls are a source of particular worry and the aim of the many activity groups for migrant girls is to educate them so that they can become “equal Finnish citizens”. The youth work itself is seen as gender-neutral and equality based. equality in this context is defined as a purely quantitative concept, and the solution to any possible inequalities is thus the”exact same treatment for everyone”. The girls themselves seem mainly confused by the role that is offered to them. They would need a voice and the possibility to have an impact on the planning of youth work activities. They want to have their views heard. The role of the victim assigned to them is very confining and makes it difficult to act. At the same time the research shows how gender-sensitive youth work is seen to mean youth work with girls. Gender-sensitive work with boys is not really done or is done very little, even if many of the interviewees are of the opinion that the true materialization of gender equality would require boys to be taken into account too. The principle of gender equality should be shared by the entire youth work profession.

Keywords: Youth work, equality, multiculturalism, gender sensitivity, agency, girls, young people, sexuality