Develop a conceptual framework for thinking about men, masculinities and gender relations.
What are the key aspects that a conceptual framework to understand masculinities should address?
commonalities and differences among men and between men and women;
dominance of specific forms of hegemonic masculinities, in other words, ideals of masculinity (i.e. aggressiveness, strength, ambition) which guarantee the dominant position of some men over others and which promote the subordination of women;
how masculinities are actively constructed;
notion of a ‘patriarchal dividend’ (i.e. the privileges that all men draw upon simply by virtue of being a man);
costs associated with traditional masculinity to both men and women;
the fact that many men are now aware of gender issues; and
the fact that ideas of masculinities change over time (Ruxton 2004, Connell 1995).
For literature that discusses men, masculinities and gender relations, see the following resources:
The Role of Men and Boys in Achieving Gender Equality, Report of the Expert Group Meeting organized by the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women in collaboration with ILO and UNAIDS, 21-24 October 2003, Brasilia, Brazil . Available in English.
The Men’s Bibliography (compiled by Michael Flood). This is an extensive virtual library on men, masculinities, gender, and sexualities. Available in English.
Masculinidades y Equidad de Género/Masculinities and Gender Equality. This is an extensive virtual library of resources in Spanish.
Understand the diversity of boys’ and men’s experiences and tailor initiatives appropriately
Programmes should recognize that:
not all men are equal and differences in age, educational attainment, experiences of racism, homophobia, low socioeconomic status and others need to be addressed.
many men experience power and powerlessness at the same time (i.e., a man may feel powerful in his home in relationship to his wife, but may feel oppressed at work).
How can programmes account for the diversity of boys’ and men’s experiences?
Meet men at the stage of life they are at, engaging them at the level of their lived experience;
Think in terms of relations of power and powerlessness, where both men and women may experience vulnerability. For instance, men may not feel powerful under all circumstances, some men may feel powerless in comparison to men of a different race or social economic status;
Do not treat ‘maleness’ as a problem in and of itself; and
Tailor a programme to the needs of a particular group (e.g. fathers) or conduct programmes in an inclusive manner so that no group feels excluded by using images and examples that appeal to a broad range of men regardless of race, occupation or socioeconomic status.
Ensure sufficient exposure
Programmes promoting changes in gender norms and behaviours require long-term investment to ensure multiple group sessions or sustained community activities and campaigns.
Promote change at the society-wide and community levels, beyond just individual change
As suggested by the ecological model for addressing violence, targeting boys’ and men’s individual behaviour alone will produce limited results. It is important that interventions target the context within which they live by addressing individuals, relationships, social institutions, gatekeepers, and community leaders, among others.
Make use of effective messengers
Given discriminatory attitudes towards women, men are more likely to listen to men they respect discuss gender issues; therefore men-to-men approaches can be especially helpful. Bring in men and boys – as facilitators, peer educators, spokespersons – to address other men and boys, but always assess and strengthen their skills and knowledge to ensure a gender-sensitive, women’s rights and equality perspective.
Bring in supportive women’s voices – including sisters, mothers, grandmothers, wives and girlfriends – to help men see the effects of gender discrimination on women and girls they know (Ruxton 2004).
Identify and engage influential men leaders and custodians of public opinion and culture (e.g. political, traditional, religious, celebrities, sports, and others)
Support groups of boys and men
Create spaces where men will not be judged in order to:
Enable men and boys to engage with their personal and emotional lives;
Help men and boys understand the negative impact that rigid social norms and traditional masculinities may have in their own lives, as well as in the lives of women and girls; and
Allow men and boys to feel supported as they become more gender equitable and may face ridicule or stigma from other men in their communities.
Match the intervention to men’s stage of change
Interventions should be matched to boys and men’s level of awareness about and willingness to take responsibility for problems of violence and gender inequality (Flood 2008).
Assess what stage boys and men are at before engaging them in an intervention. This can be done by administering a knowledge, attitudes and practices questionnaire; interviewing men; holding focus-group discussions and by conducting other qualitative research.
Make use of context-specific opportunities to promote change
Societal ‘crises’, such as the HIV epidemic, large scale unemployment or panics about men’s violence (for instance, following a series of violent episodes by men reported in the media or systematic rape during times of social upheaval) can lead to shifts in gender relations, providing opportunities for intervention (Ruxton 2004).
Identify appropriate places, times and venues to reach men and boys
Venues and times when men congregate – such as sports events, religious celebrations, in workplaces, and in bars and cafes – can be opportunities for intervention.
Identifying strategic communications venues that may reach large numbers of boys and men – such as public service announcements during television broadcasts of sports events or use of modern communications technologies popular with boys and young men.
Creating spaces where men can meet away from the ‘public gaze’, in other words, in locations where they will not have to be concerned how they are seen or viewed, can also be important (Ruxton 2004).
Help men to see what they may gain from becoming involved
Approaches can include:
Helping men and boys understand the negative impacts of traditional ideas of masculinity in their lives and in the lives of the women and children they care about.
Helping men and boys understand how they may benefit from sharing power with girls and women, for instance, by having more intimate relationships with their partners (Esplen 2006).
Helping men and boys understand the harm, pressure and stress that traditional gender norms places on themselves and that participation may allow them to be more secure in their identity and feel freer.
Helping men and boys understand that there are opportunities for collective solidarity to reject and rethink the norms that create pressures (e.g. coercive sex, arranged or forced marriage, etc.).
Work with men and boys to develop their emotional life and caring
Interventions should help men and boys develop their emotional lives by:
Creating safe spaces where men can learn to think and speak openly about their feelings and lives;
Helping men seek non-violent alternatives and emotional support for the triggers of their violent behaviour (e.g. unemployment or feelings of emasculation);
Teaching nurturing skills to boys and prospective fathers, such as empathy and compassion; and
Teaching conflict resolution skills that require emotional awareness (Kaufman 2003).
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