Arctic FOXY, the group recently rewarded with a $1 million research grant for its work reinventing sex education for young women, is getting back to what they do best.
Founders Candice Lys and Nancy MacNeill and their peer leaders held focus groups with students and adults in Yellowknife and Fort Smith at the end of last month, laying the groundwork for a FOXY equivalent for boys.
They plan to hold similar feedback-seeking events across the Northwest Territories in the coming months as they visit communities to deliver the FOXY girls program at local high schools.
Lys said when she and MacNeill developed the girls’ program they jumped in head-first and adjusted things on the fly, but they already had a foundation after growing up in the NWT themselves, and with Lys’ master’s thesis on the subject.
“I am not a young man who grew up in the North, so I don’t have that background,” Lys said. “People in the North have been telling us for a while there should be a program for young men. It’ll be great to travel and talk to people about what they think.”
About 20 people including FOXY staff, two new male facilitators and girls who took part in a past workshop gathered in the library at PWK High School in Fort Smith Oct. 27 to share their thoughts on what a program for boys should look like. Lys and the facilitators heard from 32 male PWK students earlier that day.
Attendees of the night session, who signed confidentiality agreements informing them the focus group was technically a part of Lys’ PhD research project, brought up the importance of talking about consent and negative stereotypes associated with pressure among males to “be a man” early and often. They also talked about their own sexual education experience, and the fact that it focused almost entirely on biology and the reproductive process.
They also talked about negative societal influences on teens and the ever-increasing influence of social media and new technology on relationships.
The landscape has changed even in the time FOXY for girls launched three years ago, according to Lys.
“We see a lot more connectivity in the North now,” she said. “A lot of communities have more accessible cell service and internet that didn’t when we started. It has changed the entire landscape of teenager relationships (which) often exist over devices we didn’t have as teenageers. A lot takes place over Snapchat. A lot of girls Snapchat all day, they share everything.”
In the Fort Smith focus group, one facilitator noted the traditional courtship that took place over a number of weeks in person now happens in a matter of days over platforms like Snapchat, and sexual encounters take place a lot sooner.
They want her voice, too
To Lys’ surprise, men are telling FOXY they think female facilitators should take part in the boys’ program too.
“In order to talk about feminism and the experience of women and relationships, that female voice needs to be there as well,” she said. “FOXY is very much by and for Northern women, so it makes sense.”
FOXY has reached more than 500 indigenous and Northern youth from 25 of the 33 communities in the Northwest Territories through its school-based sexual health education program, and on-the-land peer leadership retreats. They use art and other activities to break the ice.
Lys said they have heard stand-up comedy, videos and video games, as well as traditional activities like hand drumming would be successful in reaching boys.
“I think a lot of the content is going to be the same,” Lys said. “A lot of the things that came up that people think we should talk about, including power dynamics and consent, already come up in conversations in FOXY for girls. I think a lot of the pillars will translate well to FOXY for boys (but) we’re happy to hear what people think should be involved in content. We want to make sure everything we do with Foxy is relevant in the North (and) if people don’t tell us, we’re kind of guessing.”
Eyes on the prize
It has been about a year since FOXY won the Arctic Inspiration Prize, dedicated to organizations working in the Canadian Arctic on education, human health, social-cultural issues, the environment and the economy.
They were the first laureates ever not to have to split the $1 million prize with any co-winners. Their biggest ambition is to expand to all three territories – they have been to Yukon twice and Nunavut once – and to reach both genders.
“Foxy boys is a huge component of all of that,” Lys said. “We (also) wanted to focus on working with LGBTQ youth for their sexual health needs.”
Another part of the plan is doing longer-term cohort studies of FOXY participants to see how exposure to the program changes who they are. That work started during last week’s visit to Fort Smith, and continued this week in Norman Wells.
“The bigger focus is on mental health,” Lys said. “We’ve noticed at FOXY how closely tied it is to sexual health and how you can’t really have one without the other.”