3. Initiating changes in masculinities and related norms

What helps to initiate change in masculinities and related norms?

Laws, policies and international and national agreements provide a key impetus and foundation for norm change. International bodies and the international community have reiterated the need to engage men and boys as a part of the global gender equality agenda. Although this agenda is not uniform and does not enjoy universal endorsement, it is encapsulated in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 1979), the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD, 1994), the Beijing Platform for Action (1995),  the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs, 2000),  the UN Commission on the Status of Women (2004)and now the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, 2015).

Development practitioners suggest that male engagement in programmes for gender equality also has its genesis more than 20 years ago in efforts to address violence, as well as public health work on HIV/AIDS. Gender equality and equity, and the empowerment of women and girls are also key motivators for working with men. The argument is that gender relations cannot be transformed if men are not engaged in that transformation. ICRWs’ 2018 report on Gender Equity and Male Engagement states that ‘If women are becoming empowered but the men are being left behind (either in terms of programming or in terms of gender norms/attitude changes), women may be unintentionally put at risk.

Alongside gender equality and women’s empowerment, the enhancement of men’s own well-being is another motivator for their greater involvement in changes in gender relations. To convince men to join an intervention on gender, interventions can also highlight how working for gender equality is in their best interest and can improve their lives and relationships. Other good entry points include promoting the benefits of gender equality for their health, family dynamics and relationships with their children and the satisfaction this can bring. However, it is equally important to talk about the negative impact of gender imbalances in their lives, and in the world, and the need to change them. As a result, programmes need to strike a balance between focusing on positive outcomes and holding men accountable for the changes that are needed. The work of the MenEngage Alliance attempts to strike just such a balance.

Approaches to engaging boys and men to enhance gender equality and equity

Programming to support male engagement falls along a spectrum that includes approaches that do no harm (gender-neutral), approaches that are gender-sensitive, and approaches that are gender-transformative (see Gupta, 2000).

  •  Gender-neutral approaches do not distinguish between the needs of women and men and do not engage with gender roles and norms. They promote messages that are not targeted to any one sex, such as general health messaging around ‘safe sex’. Other examples include health treatment and care services that do not consider the specific needs of women, such as their need for female health professionals and counsellors.
  • Gender-sensitive programming recognizes and responds to the different needs and constraints of individuals based on their gender. Examples include providing women with female health workers and counsellor because that will make them feel more comfortable. Gender-sensitive programmes do not, however, change any larger contextual issues and cannot fundamentally alter the balance of power in gender relations (see EMERGE Evidence Report, 2015).
  • Gender-transformative programming tries to transform unequal gender norms and the resulting behaviours and attitudes and create more gender-equitable relationships. The past decade has seen a burgeoning of such approaches. Two excellent examples are the Men as Partners or MAP project by the Planned Parenthood Association of South Africa and the Stepping Stones programme. Both work with young men and women to redefine gender norms and encourage healthy sexuality.

A 2014 MenEngage Alliance, UNFPA, and UN Women discussion paper notes that engaging men for gender equality is conceptualised in three ways:

  • As gatekeepers who hold power in society and uphold inequitable patriarchal norms. Their involvement is, therefore, seen as necessary to change women’s lives.
  • As allies or partners in the struggle for gender equality and equity -- although this does not place enough emphasis on role or stake of men and boys in gender equality or on how their lives will benefit (despite the loss of privileges).
  • As stakeholders and co-beneficiaries in creating gender equality and equity: this focuses more explicitly on what men and boys will gain from more equitable families and societies.

ICRW’s conceptual framework on male engagement programming for gender equity, (ICRWs’ 2018 report on Gender Equity and Male Engagement) advocates for the engagement of men and boys as stakeholders and co-beneficiaries. It stresses that their engagement is about recognizing how social norms of power and gender affect men and women as individuals, in their relationships with each other, and in the structures and institutions that organize societies. This approach allows men to understand and advocate for the benefits of gender equity that both men and women will enjoy.

Kedia, S. and Verma, R. 2019, Gender norms and masculinities: a topic guide. ALIGN: London