1 October 2020

DOs & DON’Ts for engaging men and boys

Author: Danette Wilkins
Published by: Breakthrough ACTION, Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs
View factsheet
First page of factsheet

Gender norms are the unwritten rules and expectations that determine and regulate acceptable behaviour for individuals based on their gender in a given society, community, or group. They are embedded in individuals and institutions and, while not static, they are constantly renegotiated between individuals. These norms not only shape health‐related behaviours, but also influence access to health services. For example, a common gender norm across many societies is that men are the heads of household and have sole decision-making power. This could impact household members’ access to desired health services, such as a partner’s contraceptive access and use.

Though gender norms may appear to benefit men, they can also negatively impact their own health-related behaviours and access to health services. Men are often socialized to seek health services less or later than women due to norms that overvalue independence and resilience. As a result, health care underuse or avoidance can result in men seeking health services at more advanced stages of illness and disease, if at all, which can have detrimental effects for their treatment and recovery. Thus, gender inequitable norms affect everyone–men and boys, women and girls, and people with other gender identities.

Growing evidence shows that meaningful engagement of men and boys in health promotion and gender equality can result in positive changes in attitudes and behaviours that not only support them in improving their own health outcomes, but also benefit the health and well-being of others. If engaging men and boys stands to benefit most people, it begs the question: How can we thoughtfully partner with men and boys in promoting health, fostering gender equity, and achieving gender equality?

The DOs and DON’Ts for Engaging Men & Boys, developed by the USAID Interagency Gender Working Group’s Male Engagement Task Force, is a two-page guide that brings together recent best practices and lessons learned on how to meaningfully engage men and boys as consumers of health services, supportive partners, and agents of change. The guide is meant to inform decision-making about programming, policy, media coverage, research, and funding priorities. The intended audiences for this resource include donors, implementing partners, and researchers.

To reach a wider audience with the practical information in this cross-cutting guide, the USAID-funded Breakthrough ACTION Program, led by the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, recently translated it into French, Portuguese, and Spanish. We encourage you to share this resource with colleagues and partners working to increase or improve efforts to engage men and boys around the globe.

To access the original English guide and its translations, visit the Resources page on the Interagency Gender Working Group website.