Girls Group Mentoring Toolkit

This Girls Group Mentoring Toolkit provides the tools, resources and support to create, implement, deliver and evaluate a quality group mentoring program for girls, ages 9-13, in your community. The Toolkit is intended to be used in a range of communities, and can be adapted to the unique values, needs, strengths and challenges that each community encompasses.

Program and Meetings

Creating Safe Space

Mentees will learn and grow best in a safe space—a place where they feel physically and emotionally safe. This will depend on the physical environment where the mentoring takes place, as well as the leadership and skills of the staff and mentors in addressing difficult issues and ensuring that inclusivity and respect are practiced at all times. Participants need to feel that they can be open and honest with their feelings and opinions. There are many considerations that must be addressed in creating a safe space for girls. These include:

One strategy to create a safe space is to invite the girls to participate in creating group guidelines or rules. This is something you can review and modify regularly as new topics and issues come up.
Some examples of topics to cover in your guidelines include:

  • Confidentiality
  • Putting away or silencing cell phones
  • Speak when it’s your turn to speak; listen when it’s your turn to listen
  • Homophobia, transphobia, racism or sexism is not acceptable

Ensuring physical safety

  • All participants—including mentees, mentors, other staff and facilitators—identify as female and a girls-only space is provided (at least while the program is running).
  • The program location is central and easily accessible for all participants.
  • The facility or meeting space is secure.
  • Consider how participants will get to and from meetings safely. For example, if participants will be walking home, what would be a good start and end time to ensure their safety? What measures should be put into place to ensure they travel safely to and from the location?

Ensuring personal safety for sharing and discussion

  • The girls feel they can share their experiences, stories, strengths and difficulties in the group where their peers and mentors listen and respect confidentiality. Mentors, other volunteers and staff can play important roles by modelling and coaching.
  • Confidentiality is discussed, agreed upon and maintained throughout the group meetings. Participants understand that what they say, and what their mentors and peers say, is to be kept within the group, except when someone is at risk of harm.
  • Boundaries and ground rules are clearly established by mentors, by staff, and by mentees themselves. The mentees understand and take ownership of the boundaries and ground rules.
  • When developed as a group, additional guidelines on how the group will operate can prevent oppressive comments and encourage communication, problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills. Develop these guidelines together and determine how they will be enforced. Post the guidelines in a visible place during every session.
  • Hold participants to standards designed specifically with them in mind.

Ensuring the experience is accessible and inclusive

When partnering with other organizations/schools or hosting the meetings off-site, creating and maintaining a safe space can be more difficult to manage and ensure. It is important to establish policies with partners to ensure your requirements are met. For example, rules and regulations of a school or organization should align with your program vision.

  • The program is accessible, regardless of ability level, economic situation, gender variance, sexual orientation or culture.
  • Consider the girls’ differences including their abilities, races, religious affiliations, socioeconomic status, gender identity and sexual orientations when planning activities and facilitating discussions.
  • The girls must feel that the space belongs to them. If possible, put up posters and pictures on the walls and provide opportunities for the girls to take ownership of the space by decorating it, even if you have to take them down between sessions.
  • Allow girls to opt out of participating in an activity or discussion.
  • Create a space with gender equity. Try to erase genders stereotypes in your surroundings—from the posters you hang to the language used during your meetings.
  • Ensure the program creates a diversity-positive space that is inclusive of all gender expression.

“Many mentees are extremely sensitive about talking in front of others, so programs should train mentors to never force a young person to share or participate.”

- (Sherk 2006)

Some of the suggestions in the above section can help when supporting girls to claim the space such as encouraging girls to put up decorations each session or moving the chairs into a circle. You should reflect in advance on how you will facilitate a ‘safe space’ when travelling into the community. Sometimes you won’t have control over the physical space but you will always have some level of control over the group. Reminding girls that the rules around personal safety and inclusion still apply is a first step. You should also establish where to go and what to do if they get lost or feel unsafe. A buddy system is also helpful with this.

Creating a safe space can be an ongoing process. Safe space has to constantly be maintained and the reality is that sometimes we can only create safer spaces. It is important that groups are gentle but also vigilant with constantly checking in. For more information on what to do when it is difficult to create safe space, see the Managing the Group Dynamic section.


Contact: mentoringgirls(at)canadianwomen.org