Engaging men and boys for gender equality

Lea en español *** Lisez en français

Adolescent girls in a BRAC Tanzania program. Photo credit: BRAC Tanzaniz

Adolescent girls in a BRAC Tanzania program. Photo credit: BRAC Tanzaniz

>>Authored by Sabina Rogers, Manager, Communications and Relationships

If we are to achieve the World Bank’s goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030 — or even our own goal of helping 100 million families lift themselves out of extreme poverty — we have to tackle the issue of gender inequality. The recent review of microcredit RCTs shows, on average, a surprising lack of positive effect on women’s empowerment.

Though, there are some promising findings. For example, it seems that the effects of microcredit diffuse across multiple outcome, so it’s hard to detect what the actual effect is on women’s empowerment. Also, the study in Mexico found some small but significant increase in female decision power.

Are we satisfied with “small but significant”? Microfinance has long claimed that it was empowering women; indeed, the third core theme of our campaign, approved alongside the original goal in 1997, is “empowering women.” If the RCT review is to be taken at face value, let’s now ask ourselves what can we do better, or, what are we not doing that we should?

Engaging men and boys

A 2007 report prepared by the World Health Organization in collaboration with Instituto Promudo, Engaging men and boys in changing gender-based inequity in health, (an analysis of data from 58 evaluation studies) suggests that the problem may be that we are excluding men in the equation.[1] The report summarizes the situation thusly:

The social expectations of what men and boys should and should not do and be directly affect attitudes and behaviour related to a range of health issues. Research with men and boys has shown how inequitable gender norms influence how men interact with their partners, families and children on a wide range of issues, including preventing the transmission of HIV and sexually transmitted infections, contraceptive use, physical violence (both against women and between men), domestic chores, parenting and their health-seeking behaviour.[2]

If microcredit programs (microfinance institutions, savings groups, and other organizations in the world of “microcredit”) wish to empower their target beneficiaries, namely women, what are they doing to counter these social expectations?

A new campaign launched by UN Women in 2014 called HeForShe is calling on us to unify our efforts. “HeForShe is a solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the benefit of all.” Emma Watson, better known as Hermione Granger in the fabulous Harry Potter movies, is Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women and the face of this campaign.

“We want to end gender inequality,” Watson said, “And we want to try and galvanize as many men and boys as possible to be advocates for change. And, we don’t just want to talk about it. We want to try and make sure its tangible.”

What actions do we need to take?

If you just look at intimate partner violence (IPV), for example, studies show that men perpetrate their first act of sexual violence before the age of 18 and many men will not stop at just once. Further, IPV “is more common in settings where social norms condone or ignore men’s sexually coercive or aggressive behaviors (Katz 2006; Schwartz and DeKeseredy 2008)” [3] and it is shaped by gender inequality, harmful paradigms of what it means to be “masculine,” and experiencing violence as a child.

Therefore, while we obviously need to work with men, it is essential that boys are included in programs, opening an honest dialogue discussing issues of gender and masculinity. The key features of successful interventions, according to the WHO report, are as follows:

  • Use positive and affirmative messages;
  • Encourage men to reflect on the costs of hegemonic masculinity to men and women;
  • Are evidence-based and theoretically informed, i.e., they use formative research, begin with or develop a theory of change, and carry out ongoing monitoring and evaluation;
  • Recognize that men are not homogenous and develop interventions that reflect men’s different life experiences;
  • Use an ecological approach that recognizes the range of factors shaping gender roles and relations; and
  • Use a range of social change strategies — community education, community mobilization, media, policy development, and advocacy for implementation.[4]
Photo credit: Giorgia Bonaga & Shamimur Rahman

Photo credit: Giorgia Bonaga & Shamimur Rahman

The key findings from the 2007 WHO report are as follows:

Well-designed programs with men and boys show compelling evidence of leading to change in behavior and attitudes. They even come to question violence with other men and their health-seeking behavior as a result of relatively short-term programs. But, how effective were they? Two-thirds were effective or promising and the final third were unclear.

Programs rated as being gender-transformative had a higher rate of effectiveness. It appears that (perhaps unsurprisingly) deliberate discussion of gender and masculinity and clear efforts to transform such gender norms were more effective than simply acknowledging gender norms.

Integrated programs and programs that embedded in community outreach, mobilization, and mass-media campaigns show more effectiveness in producing behavior change. Unsurprisingly, informing and engaging social institutions, gatekeepers, community leaders, and other influencers were key to the success of gender equity programs

However, relatively few of these programs are scaled-up or long-term. Indeed, only about 10 of the 58 programs included in the review represent long-term efforts to engage men and communities or scale up the relatively limited scope and short-term interventions.

What does this means for microfinance institutions, NGOs that support savings groups and self-help groups, and other financial service providers that aim to empower women? Is it realistic to ask a financial service provider to engage men and boys in a “well-designed” program in order to effect behavior change and gender equality? Is this something that they can take on?

Tell of your experience in the comments below.

How you can get involved

There is a great deal of research into such solidarity-based initiatives — both programs and government policies — beyond the 2007 WHO review of evaluation studies that is building on our knowledge base. We encourage you to take a look at Instituto Promudo’s resource library and the HeForShe Action Kit  (it’s available in 7 languages; here it is in English). And follow HeForShe on Twitter (@HeForShe) and Promundo (@Promundo_US).


Related reading


[1] The WHO report focuses more on whether the evaluated programs have taken a gender perspective into account in their work with men and boys and how and whether these programs have been able to measure changes in the attitudes and behavior of men and boys as a result of the intervention. The review assessed the effectiveness of programs seeking to engage men and boys in achieving gender equality and equity in health. The research was driven by the following questions:

What is the evidence on the effectiveness of programs engaging men and boys in sexual and reproductive health; HIV prevention, treatment, care and support; fatherhood; gender-based violence; maternal, newborn and child health; and gender socialization?

  • How effective are these programs?
  • What types of programs with men and boys show more evidence of effectiveness?
  • What gender perspective should be applied to men and boys in health programs?
  • Does applying a gender perspective to work with men and boys lead to greater effectiveness in terms of health outcomes?

This review suggests several key questions as the engaging of men and boys moves forward:

  • How can programs take a more relational perspective, integrating efforts to engage men and boys with efforts to empower women and girls?
  • What is the evidence on the impact of such relational perspectives?
  • In which cases is working solely with men and boys (or solely with women and girls) useful and in which cases is working with men and women together useful and effective?
  • What is required for programs to be able to scale up and sustain their efforts?
  • What are the common factors, conditions or operating strategies of the programs that have been able to scale up or sustain themselves?
  • Which programs should be scaled up?
  • What kinds of structural changes and policies have led to or could lead to large-scale change in men and masculinity?

[2] World Health Organization (2007). Engaging men and boys in changing gender-based inequity in health: Evidence from programme interventions . Geneva. P. 6. http://www.who.int/gender/documents/Engaging_men_boys.pdf

[3] Dean Peacock and Gary Barker, “Working with Men and Boys to Prevent Gender-based Violence: Principles, Lessons Learned, and Ways Forward,” Men and Masculinities, 2014.

[4] Ibid.

E-Workshop Takeaways: “Are you serving women well? Using the GPIs”


This gallery contains 3 photos.

Learn how the Gender Performance Indicators can help you improve outreach and service to women EspañolFrançais Continue reading

Résumés de l’actualité globale au sujet de la Journée Internationale de la Femme


“Je suis fière du modèle de société tunisienne où la femme est traitée en égale à l’homme et y a vu un héritage heureux de dames qui ont beaucoup donné à la Tunisie à l’instar des reines phéniciennes, berbères ou encore arabes”, a déclaré à cette occasion la présidente du SNJT Mme Néjiba Hamrouni. Continue reading

A Round-up of International Women’s Day Stories across the Globe


This gallery contains 2 photos.

The continued dominance of political life in Africa by men is not good for men, it’s not good for women and it’s not good for the continent. Thankfully, this is a situation that is beginning to change… Continue reading

Keeping a Promise to Our Mothers and Sisters


This gallery contains 5 photos.

There are many forms of deeply unjust gender-based violence that need to be confronted and dealt with…the Microcredit Summit Campaign has made it our mission since 1997 to tackle daily extreme poverty, which disproportionately affects the world’s women.
Continue reading