Imagining change: A three-country partnership working with boys

Close up of young man speaking into microphone

In this post, we look back at highlights from the IMAGINE conference, told through the top #IMAGINE2018 tweets and photos of the day.

20 June 2018

More than 200 of people from around Europe and beyond gathered in Amsterdam on 13 June 2018 to share their experiences, hopes and challenges of gender transformative work with boys.

The IMAGINE conference was the culmination of a partnership between three MenEngage Europe[1] Network members – Emancipator, MÄN and the Good Lad Initiative. The two-year project facilitated important conversations on gender, sexist attitudes and masculinities with around 1,500 boys and young men between the ages of 11 and 18 at schools and youth organizations in the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.

The IMAGINE Toolkit was launched at the event to share new knowledge and lessons learned on engaging with boys on these issues.


Wide view of the stage and rows of people from behind


Aiming to challenge the root causes of gender inequality, reduce sexual harassment, and promote positive, healthy and equitable attitudes and behaviours, IMAGINE recruited 30 young men to be trained to deliver workshops as ‘peer educators’ in schools.


Many of the peer educators attended the conference to share their stories working with boys, including Rikkert van Huisstede (above), who enthralled the audience with a moving performance of ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ that set the tone for the day’s proceedings (listen to the song here).


Many of the peer educators attended the conference to share their stories working with boys, including Rikkert van Huisstede (above), who enthralled the audience with a moving performance of ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ that set the tone for the day’s proceedings (listen to the song here).


Tweet saying it is a positive step to ask delegates their preferred pronouns at the start of a conference

Sylvana Simons speaks on stage at IMAGINE 2018


IMAGINE 2018 was hosted by Sylvana Simons (above), Dutch activist, TV presenter and well-known public voice on feminism.



Jens van Tricht (above) from Emancipator gave a brief opening speech, sharing the context of IMAGINE as a project borne out of a partnership between MenEngage Alliance members.


Three IMAGINE coordinators on stage explaining the project


IMAGINE project managers, Erik Schrammel (MÄN, Sweden), Jurhaily Sing (Emancipator, Netherlands) and Ben Hurst (UK) (above) presented the IMAGINE project from the perspective of their respective countries.


Screenshot of tweet saying it is great to hear peer educators share their experiences of boys feeling it is ok to be vulnerable

Peer educators on stage candidly discussing their experiences.


Several peer educators (above) took to the stage to share their experiences talking to groups of boys about gender, masculinities, and breaking out of harmful gender norms.


Close up shot of the inside of the IMAGINE toolkit, with the quote, "most men might not use violence, but all boys and men can take responsibility to prevent it"

The IMAGINE toolkit, with its bright pink cover, is presented to the representative from the Dutch government


Peer educators from each partner country presented the IMAGINE toolkit to Maggie Wissink from the Dutch Ministry responsible for Education, Culture, Science, Research, Gender equality and Communications.


Katrien van der Heyden stands on stage with bar charts on screen showing positive reaction of participants to the IMAGINE workshops


Katrien van der Heyden (above) then presented the evaluation findings of IMAGINE project, showing the impact on attitudes and behaviors that can happen following workshops with groups of boys. For example, around one third of boys agreed or strongly agreed that the this workshop would change their personal actions.


Screenshot of Tweet saying there is a paradox of gender based violence in that thanks to #MeToo, we all now know a survivor or victim, but no one seems to know any perpetrators.

Tweet saying "If violence against women were a disease, it would be considered an epidemic"

Tweet saying "if boys and young men are not feeling like they have something to gain, but only something to lose, then we have a long way to go"


The keynote speaker of the day was Renée Römkens, Professor of Gender Based Violence at the University of Amsterdam Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, and Director of Atria, the Dutch institute for gender equality and women’s history. Professor Römkens presented on gender based violence prevention work and the #MeToo movement in its historical context.


Several members of a panel discussion sit on stage


The morning sessions ended with a panel discussion on how to be accountable to women’s rights and feminist movements when running a program specifically aimed at boys and young men. The panelists, Jens van Tricht, Sandy Ruxton, Hannah Nordberg and Renée Römkens, raised issues including being accountable to services for victims and survivors of male abuse, not drawing budgets away from women’s empowerment work, and integrating approaches into the mainstream education.


Tweet expressing a good morning at IMAGINE 2018

Tweet expressing excitement for a workshop taking place in the afternoon session

Tweet saying there are so many great sessions this afternoon


The afternoon program at the IMAGINE conference offered delegates the chance to choose from 21 break-out sessions on a range of topics including how to run workshops with boys, sharing practical tips on challenging homophobia and transphobia, using humour to challenge harmful attitudes, thinking intersectionally, and many more (see the full program here).


 Sylvana Simon stands with eight year old Oscar on stage


One of the stars of the day, Oscar (above), presented his drawing showing what boys are expected to be, and what boys could be (with the above tweet coming from Oscar’s mother, Professor Nicole Westmarland)

The atmosphere of the IMAGINE conference 2018 was one of optimism and determination to continue the kind of work and approaches developed through IMAGINE project.

The respective partners will now look to continue this work, while all 200 delegates to the conference left with a sense of motivation to take the knowledge, tools and lessons of IMAGINE to their own projects and communities around Europe and beyond.


Jens van Tricht surrounded by TV crew for an interview at the conference 

Photo from the back of the room towards the stage

Tweet saying that the conference may be over, but it is really only the beginning of this work



[1] MenEngage Europe is the regional network of MenEngage Alliance, consisting of organizations and individuals across 29 countries in the region.

Main photo by Rebecca Collins from Good Lad Initiative

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