4. The ‘what’ and ‘how’ of male engagement across key areas

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Violence against women and girls (VAWG)

One woman in three (and in some countries more than two-thirds) of women have experienced violence, usually from an intimate partner – statistics that have changed little in recent decades. Most violence against women and girls is perpetrated by men.

There is a growing recognition among practitioners that engaging men and boys is critical to preventing and addressing violence against women and girls (VAWG). This is because (see Flood, 2015):

  • men (and to some extent, boys) are also the principal perpetrators of violence against women and girls
  • violence against women is driven by norms of masculinity that subordinate women and that condone or even demand violence, with a man considered weak or ‘unmanly’ if he dosen't respond with violence in certain situations
  • ending violence has direct and indirect benefits for men, helping them challenge the pressure to be ‘strong’ and ‘in control’ and work to support the well-being of their female loved ones.

The ICRWs’ 2018 report on Gender Equity and Male Engagement also notes that, on a practical level, it makes sense to work with men to end VAWG, because they tend to hold positions of power in male-dominated societies and have, therefore, the power to address VAWG and gender equity in public policy and institutions, both formal and informal. In addition, when women experience violence and interact with local institutions, they may well encounter male service providers or officials. The engagement of these men is, therefore, vital to ensure women’s access to care and justice. Finally, engaging and sensitising men on VAWG may help to prevent a backlash – which could itself be violent – in reaction to women’s greater agency and empowerment in other sectors (i.e., education or financial independence).

Most programmes for male engagement in efforts to end VAWG aim to shift norms at the individual and community level, with only limited work on male engagement in VAWG prevention at the institutional and policy levels. Programmes at the individual level aim to change the attitudes and behaviours of individual men and boys, focusing on the relationships between men and women and promoting non-violent relationships. They work with individuals or couples in one-to-one or group settings.

Group-based gender education and reflection is the approach used most commonly to change VAWG-related attitudes and behaviours at the level of the individual, couple or household. Another common approach is working directly with male perpetrators to change their behaviours and attitudes toward women (see MenEngage, Promundo, Rutgers WPF, and MenCare+ briefing). In Lebanon, for example, the ABAAD Resource Center for Gender Equality runs a men’s centre that provides voluntary and confidential counselling for men (see ICRWs’ 2018 report on Gender Equity and Male Engagement). In South Africa, Mosaic also counsels couples.

The evidence on the effectiveness of group-based gender education and reflection is mixed. While these programmes are generally considered effective in changing men’s attitudes towards VAWG, it is not clear whether the change in attitude they express translates into actual changes in their behaviour.

Programmes that target young men and boys, particularly those who have grown up in violent homes or communities, can also be effective in addressing VAWG (see Contreras et al., 2012). The Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) programme review on ‘Programming with adolescent boys to promote gender equitable masculinities’ shows that VAWG was a common focus for programmes working with adolescent boys and young men. Such programmes aim to prevent VAWG in the next generation while changing the norms, attitudes and behaviour of boys who are old enough to be in intimate relationships. These programmes matter because they help to change the behaviour of boys towards their sisters, other family members and classmates as demonstrated by the Gender Equity Movement in Schools (GEMS) .

One common strategy for reaching boys and young men is to combine VAWG prevention and gender equality programming with other social activities, particularly sports and residential trips. For example, ICRW’s Parivartan Programme  in Mumbai, India, used sports to question norms that encourage VAWG.

The Young Men Initiative in the Balkans and Khanyisa in South Africa used residential trips as a way to help boys focus on these issues. Rozan's Humaqadam programme in Pakistan has also integrated games of cricket and cinema trips into its strategy. 

Such strategies strengthen bonds among boys and enable them to share their experiences and question established gender norms around violence and the way in which they treat their female peers and relatives. This collective sharing and listening prepares them to stand up to conventional norms around VAWG and is highlighted in the Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) programme review on ‘Programming with adolescent boys to promote gender-equitable masculinities’.

Community-based approaches to engaging men on VAWG aim to change community norms around violence (see the Practice Brief by the Prevention Collaborative on Strengthening Prevention Work with Men and Boys in Community Settings). These approaches also use reflective group education and dialogue (see the Young Men Initiative case-study, 2012). For example, Women for Women International (WfWI) programming in the Democratic Republic of Congo used a gender-synchronised approach that begins with separate all-male and all-female community discussion groups, which later come together in community dialogue sessions where both sexes hear from each other and develop community action on VAWG (see ICRWs’ 2018 report on Gender Equity and Male Engagement).

Community based approaches also target male leaders who play a critical role in changing gender norms. The SASA! Programme that started in Uganda and is now global works with an array of community stakeholders to address VAWG (see video). Such approaches are also increasingly working with men as bystanders: men who are present when violence occurs but who do not take part in it. These men may hold more equitable views but may be wary of speaking out, so programmatic approaches include building their skills and capacity to intervene when they witness violence or the expression of violent and sexist beliefs, and to share a more positive view on masculinity (see the USAID study on engaging men to end VAWG, 2015). Their engagement can help to reduce the tolerance and perpetuation of VAWG.

There is evidence that such programmes can change men’s attitudes towards VAWG as noted in a multi-country intervention and impact evaluation study, but there is limited evidence to show whether the reported change in attitudes translates into actual change in behaviour, as noted in a 2015 USAID study. While some research points to positive outcomes and reduced rates of violence, high rates of attrition are a concern: many men who participate in these programmes do not complete them (see Ricardo et al., 2011).

The mass media are also used to question norms about VAWG. Media campaigns may seek to make public spaces safer for women by encouraging men to speak out against instances of public violence, hold public figures accountable for violent actions or statements, call for policies and initiatives to prevent VAWG and promote non-violent conceptions of masculinity. Male role models and celebrities can champion non-violent and equitable perspectives. Organizations like the Puntos de Encuentro in Nicaragua and Voices for Change in Nigeria are examples the programmatic use of mass media to tackle VAWG through television programmes, radio shows and online campaigns using an ‘edutainment’ approach: entertaining people while delivering a particular message.

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Women and girls continue to lack access to essential health services and information worldwide, and  pregnancy and childbirth remain a leading cause of deaths among girls aged 15-19 in low and middle-income countries (see Patton et al., 2009).

Male engagement in the health sector is an established way to work with men to change gender norms. A woman’s sexual and reproductive health is often inexorably linked to that of a man, and men are often the key decision makers when it comes to the health of girls and women. It is crucial, therefore, to engage men to improve health outcomes for girls and women, for households and for communities.

In the past, the health interventions aimed to engage men in family planning programmes, with the goal of preventing HIV/AIDS. Over time, this focus has expanded to include men as a part of interventions to uphold sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), aiming to increase contraception uptake, promote birth spacing, to promote healthy and consensual sexual behaviour and to strengthen maternal and child health programmes.

Like initiatives for VAWG, health programmes engage men in many ways. Some work with young boys and adolescents (see Kato-Wallace et al., 2016); some with adult men, either as partners, male family members, or traditional and religious leaders; and others work with male community members more generally. Given a specific sector focus (i.e. health) male engagement in health programming has also targeted institutions and policies by building the capacity of service providers, local governments, and institutions and forming partnerships with local NGOs.

Health programmes work with men and women, boys and girls at multiple levels and together or separately. One key focus of many health programmes is norm and behaviour change communication for family and community members. These programmes encourage boys, men, girls and women to reflect on the related implications of gender norms on health behaviours (both positive and negative). In addition, programmes often focus on promoting more equitable communication and decision making around family planning.

Health programmes that engage men have shown promising results across a variety of health outcomes (see Barker et al., 2010). Research has also shown that engaging men in family planning interventions can increase gender equality and lead to positive health outcomes for both sexes (see FHI 360, 2012). In Uttar Pradesh, India, for example, research has found a positive correlation between contraceptive use and men who hold gender-equitable attitudes towards women. Studies have also shown that male engagement in HIV/AIDs programming leads to an increase in the percentage seeking treatment and adhering to treatment regimes (see Mokganyetji et Al., 2015).

Health programmes that work with men may have an impact across a range of gender norms that go beyond health itself (see Muralidharan et Al., 2015) to reduce the perpetration of violence by young men, increase action against early marriage by religious leaders and enhance communication between partners, men’s contribution to household chores, sexual and emotional intimacy and so on.

Brothers for Life, a national programme in South Africa, is one such example (see Sonke Gender Justice). The programme addresses men’s limited involvement in fatherhood, encourages them to reduce their risky behaviours and increase their use of HIV/AIDS related services, and challenge the gender inequalities that drive the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS. It works to change men’s attitudes and behaviour to reduce the incidence of multiple concurrent partnerships, alcohol and substance abuse, and the use of violence.

Despite such programmes, health – and in particular family planning – is still seen as a ‘woman’s concern’. When men get involved in health programmes or access health services (for treatment for depression, for example), they may be stigmatised for entering an area seen traditionally as a ‘woman’s domain’. Most SRHR programmes tend to focus more on women and, therefore, overlook men. It is crucial to view men as equal partners who need to invest in their own well-being, as well as in the health and well-being of the women and girls around them (see Hook et al., 2018).

It is important to distinguish programmes that aim to include men in broader health issues around SRHR or maternal health from those that aim to improve the health of men and boys. As noted, norms of masculinity have an impact on their general physical and mental health, their well-being and their access to health services and there is growing recognition of the need to address the relationship between norms of masculinity and their unhealthy and risk-taking behaviours.

Organizations such as Movember Foundation to target prostate cancer and the new Global Action on Men’s Health (GAMH) encourage international public health agencies to develop research, policies and interventions to promote men’s health and to examine the social and structural drivers of men’s health (see EMERGE Evidence Report, 2015). Similarly, RHEG (Network of Men for Gender Equality) and Papai in Brazil (no English-language versions available) have developed educational materials to help health providers cater specifically for men. However, these efforts could have a greater impact if they positioned men’s health within a patriarchal context and demonstrated the links between the health of men and women.

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Unpaid care work

Women’s participation in the workforce has increased in recent years, but this has not been matched by an increase in men’s participation in the unpaid care work carried out in the home (such as caring for children or any elderly or disabled family members) or domestic chores such as cleaning, cooking or washing clothes. Women continue to do between two and ten times more of this work than men and often face a double work burden of paid work and unpaid care responsibilities (see ALIGN, 2018). This double burden is a key driver of gender pay and employment gaps.

Men’s limited participation in care work stems from gendered expectations that care work is a woman’s responsibility and earning an income i.e. being a ‘breadwinner’ outside the home is the responsibility of a man. This is, however, changing in many parts of the world. The IMAGES survey found that younger men, those with higher levels of education (secondary and above) and men who had seen their own fathers carry out care work were more likely to carry out care work and domestic work themselves (see Barker et al., 2011). In addition, men are more likely to carry out domestic tasks if their partners are in paid work.

Many programmes to promote the role of men in unpaid care have used the threshold of fatherhood as a key entry point. At the individual level, programmes aim to create men-only spaces or groups where men can share their experiences and fears about fatherhood and receive support from their peers. Some programmes run fatherhood training classes, or focus on the greater involvement of men during pregnancy and childbirth. A number of programmes focus on young men and boys to instil a willingness to take on more housework at an early age (see Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) programme review on ‘Programming with adolescent boys to promote gender-equitable masculinities’). The Choices, Voice, Promises project in Nepal, which worked with 10-14 year-olds to promote more gender equitable divisions of labour, led to some boys taking on more housework. 

At community level, programmes use men who are already involved in parenting as role models. Some programmes use campaigns involving celebrities and public education to encourage men to play a greater role in care-giving. Search for Common Ground in the Democratic Republic of Congo engaged the pop star Celeo Scram to promote messages around men’s involvement in unpaid care work. Plan International has set up father’s clubs in Senegal to conduct public outreach on gender equality, health and men’s involvement in such work.

Programmes also spread awareness about the benefits of involving men in fatherhood. The Fatherhood Project in South Africa and MenCare use such an approach, developing and distributing education materials on caregiving, masculinity, reproductive health (including sexual risk and HIV/AIDS), and gender-based violence.

At the institutional level, programmes advocate for greater recognition of the value of women’s unpaid work and demand policies (on parental leave, paternity leave policies and flexible work-schedules, for example) that encourage men’s participation in unpaid care work (see Promundo). Paternity leave allows men to bond with their children at an early age and participate in family responsibilities, resulting in new norms of care that see care work as a shared responsibility, rather than ‘women’s work’. Evidence demonstrates the success of paternity leave and paid family leave policies, particularly in developed countries like Sweden and Canada (see State of the World’s Fathers report, 2017). However, with the possible exception of Sweden, such policies do little to tackle the gender inequitable norms that limit men’s uptake of such provisions.

Studies show that men’s involvement in unpaid care improves health outcomes for men as well as women, while also improving family life, relationships and communication between fathers and their children (see UN, 2011; Barker et al., 2012). Evidence from the MenCare project in 40 countries shows that it has resulted in more equitable decision making and equal sharing of household responsibilities (see MenCare videos). A study of the Ecole de Maris (Schools for Husbands) programme in Niger, where men discuss community health issues, finds that the percentage of safe births increased in a village where the programme was active.

Evidence also shows that more men want to be involved in care-giving, particularly child care (see State of the World’s Fathers report, 2017). However, this interest is also gendered, with research showing that men are more likely to engage in physical play with their children than bathe them or cook for them (see Barker et al., 2011).

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Women’s economic empowerment

Women are making a growing contribution to national economies. According to the World Bank, there are around 8 to 10 million formal small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with at least one female owner in developing countries. Even so, women continue to face discrimination, primarily because of their gender, which prevents them from reaching their full economic potential. Interventions for women’s economic empowerment and  enterprise development may even lead to negative impacts as a result of the interplay of complex gender norms, such as an increase in gender-based violence at the hands of husbands and other male household members.

This violence can emerge when men sense a threat to their masculinity and a shift in a status quo that has favoured them in the past, as a result of women’s economic empowerment. This highlights the need to engage men to generate greater acceptance of women’s income-generation and recognition of its value; redefine gender norms around ‘who should earn’ and ‘who should provide care’; and create an enabling work environment for women (see ILO, 2014).  Such engagement can reduce the pressure on men to be sole bread-winners and on women to provide care while creating opportunities for both to share their workloads inside and outside the home.

At the individual and household level, some economic empowerment programmes engage men and women in savings groups and skill-development training where they reflect on gender norms while building skills for income-generation (see USAID, 2015). In general, male engagement components are added into larger women’s economic empowerment programmes and engage men through all-male groups or as part of a couple (see ILO, 2014). The Village and Savings loan programme in Rwanda for example, started with all-male groups to explore masculinities and then engaged these men with their wives to discuss the dynamics of the household relationships, decision making and division of labour (see CARE, 2012 and the related toolkit).

At the community level, programmes often use male champions, peer groups and media campaigns to show men that new divisions of labour and decision making are socially acceptable. CARE’s Abatangamuco project in Burundi (meaning: ‘those who shine light where there was darkness’) is one example (see PRIO, 2012). The project supports a group of men who have decided independently to change their lives, end abusive and oppressive practices and collaborate more closely with their wives. They use testimonies, theatre, personal consultations and other peer-to-peer activities to convince other men to make similar changes, join the organisation and contribute their own testimonies.

Men have also been engaged for women’s economic empowerment through community mobilization efforts and campaigns, including debates and training with community members and leaders. Women for Women International (WFWI) incorporated a male engagement component into its women’s economic empowerment programming in Kabul, Afghanistan. Through this component, WFWI aimed to increase men’s knowledge of the social and economic issues faced by women, change their attitudes, enable them to challenge norms around women’s work, and mobilise their positive behaviour to influence other men.

At the institutional level, men have been engaged to create enabling and safe work settings (which feature equitable hiring, pay and promotions, as well as sexual harassment policies). Such settings enable women to enter, stay at and advance their careers at work, recognise their  disproportionate responsibilities for care and domestic work and encourage men to take up unpaid care work (through flexible work arrangements, maternity and paternity leave, and part-time, temporary or home-based work).

For example, Men’s Action for Stopping Violence against Women (MASVAW) in India works to ensure fair conditions for female kiln workers (see CHSJ, no date). As a result of advocacy by MASVAW, some brick kiln owners have modified their workplace policies to allow pregnant women to engage in lighter work and address the gender pay gap (see ICRWs’ 2018 report on Gender Equity and Male Engagement). A few programmes, like Jagori’s work with the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) have targeted transportation workers specifically, mobilising them to discourage harassment and violence towards women to create a safer environment for them.

There is evidence on the effectiveness of approaches that combine group-based training and reflection with savings programmes (see ICRWs’ 2018 report on Gender Equity and Male Engagement). These programmes have been successful in shifting men’s attitudes about women’s work, income-generation and the division of labour within the household. However, their impact on behaviour has been limited and the long-term sustainability of such programmes remains under-researched.

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Girls’ learning levels and education completion rates remain lower than those for boys in many countries, with more girls dropping out, particularly during the transition from one level of education to another. At the same time, particular cultures and socio-economic groups in some countries perpetuate a norm among boys, especially adolescents, that education is 'girly', and that cool boys don’t need to work hard at school. In addition,  the norm that puts pressure on boys to become breadwinners and contribute economically to their household often propels boys from poor families – in particular to quit school and join the labour market. As a result, drop out among boys is also becoming a major problem.

Addressing these issues means engaging with boys and men (who usually exercise decision-making power), girls and women, their family members and also their school staff. It is equally important to work with young boys and men to question unequal gender norms in education and their implications (see Marcus et al., 2018), and to promote the kind of quality education that they see as adding value to their lives.

At the individual level, one key approach is to engage boys in male-only groups, both within and outside school. Promundo’s Program H curriculum for adolescent boys uses this strategy and has been adapted by organizations like CARE in their Young Men Initiative in the Balkans, by CORO, Horizons, and the Population Council in the Yaari Dosti Programme in India.

Few of these programmes, however, have an explicit focus on equality in education. Their emphasis is more on gender equality and tackling VAWG by working with young men to support egalitarian norms and behaviour in relation to education. For example, they encourage young men to avoid  dominating the classroom, to be more supportive of their sisters’ education, to not be violent and to be respectful towards their female peers.

At the community level, male engagement focuses on educational settings through gender-sensitization or transformation curricula. Most of these programmes engage adolescent boys by educating them about gender equality and work at many levels, engaging boys, teachers, male family members and male community influencers to help them question their own gender-based biases. The Gender Equity Movement in Schools (GEMS) programme implemented in multiple locations in India and replicated in other countries is one example (see Achyut et al., 2017). CARE, Breakthrough and Save the Children also use this approach.

At the institutional level, beyond some work with teachers to promote more gender-sensitve approches, there is very little focus on changing norms of masculinity in most countries, particularty at higher levels of education provision. Engagement with educational institutions is limited to providing budgets for schemes to support scholarships for girls. Some countries, such as Ghana, have included gender-sensitivity training as a part of its training for new teachers. In India in Maharashtra State, India, the Government has adapted the GEMS curriculum to  launch a scheme  the Meena Raju Manchto promote gender equality in schools by raising awareness about issues such as gender equity, the right to education and child sexual abuse.

There is evidence that these programmes have resulted in lower rates of harassment of girls in school and better learning environments for both girls and boys (see Barker et al., 2012). Programmes like UNICEF’s ‘Gender Socialization in Schools: Enhancing the transformative power of education for Peacebuilding in Uganda, have also changed the knowledge and attitude of teachers.

An evaluation of the GEMS programme in Mumbai, India, found that students who participated in the programme demonstrated a positive shift in their attitudes towards gender equality. However, while there were measurable improvements in their knowledge and attitudes, the same evaluation found no changes in their behaviour after their trainings.

In addition to the areas outlined above, programmes have also worked to engage men on other issues such as ending child marriage (see Greene et al., 2015), supporting women’s political participation and land rights (see ICRWs’ 2018 report on Gender Equity and Male Engagement) and climate change (see Kato-Wallace et al.) among others.

Book traversal links for 4. The ‘what’ and ‘how’ of male engagement across key areas

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