Global Resources

EMERGE Practice Brief: Lessons in good practice from work with men and boys for gender equality

Publisher: Institute of Development Studies, Sussex [ES]
Publication Date: Nov 2015

Why and how should we work with men and boys to build gender equality? This EMERGE practice brief draws on eight case studies from around the world to demonstrate the diversity of promising approaches employed in differing contexts and sectors, with the aim of providing a broader understanding of why and how to develop programmes and strategies for working with men and boys to transform behaviours, attitudes, and institutions. The brief addresses how to target initiatives with men and boys, how to design a successful initiative, and what challenges and future priorities exist in the field.

There are a number of ways in which men and boys can be engaged, many of which are present in the case studies. These differences reflect some of the many roles that men and masculinities can play: as perpetrators and victims of violence; as fathers, carers, and health care users; as allies with women for particular causes; and as challengers of gender norms. The need to recognise gender as but one of many intersections of inequality and discrimination is discussed, as is the need to sensitively handle and discuss gender relations between men and women.

The diverse set of case studies highlight a set of principles and guidance that, rather than forming a template, can act as a series of prompts that will be more or less relevant in different contexts. These principles include: engaging men and boys on interpersonal gender issues; working strategically and politically with institutions by engaging power, policies, and laws, and by building and working with networks, alliances, and partnerships; and maximising impact through context specific communication, and engaging men and boys through media, advocacy, education, and community structures.

Each of the case studies are referenced throughout the practice brief. Examples include: the One Man Can programmes in South Africa, which targets young men aged between 18-35 in awareness raising activities designed to change perceptions around sexual behavior, gender equality, and HIV; the national social movement in Bangladesh called Nijera Kori, which works with men’s and women’s groups to support group learning on interpersonal relationships and dynamics; and the Living Peace project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, designed in a context of significant conflict which has led to millions of deaths and displaced peoples to help stop post-conflict and non-conflict sexual and gender based violence.

The brief concludes by identifying a number of challenges, knowledge gaps, and future priorities drawn from the examples collected for the EMERGE case study series:

  • Improve evidence collection and impact assessment: research on the long-term impact of initiatives working with men and boys for gender equality is limited. This must be remedied for programmes to be better able to evaluate whether their efforts can transform patriarchal relations, or inadvertently reinforce them. Robust and appropriate monitoring and evaluation processes, using indicators and forms of documentation that go beyond disaggregating data by gender, can aid this effort.
  • Design context specific initiatives in collaboration with communities from the start: this includes the need for greater acknowledgement and inclusion of men and boys in programme planning, with careful attention to local contexts. Working closely with communities from the planning stage onwards, and utilising local knowledge and skills, can enhance programme ownership, engagement, and ultimately, effective outcomes.
  • Promote greater engagement between women’s and men’s organisations and movements: given the shared goal of building gender equality, it is crucial that synergies and alliances are formed between organisations and movements. Using a ‘gender relational’ approach that recognises the experiences of both men and women can help create productive alliances and collaborative strategies that recognise the need for both cooperation and the retention of separate spaces. 
  • Consider opportunities for scaling up, scaling out, and sustainability: building networks of different organisations working on engaging men and boys can help in efforts to develop opportunities and strategies to expand and make sustainable initiatives and programmes; this is something that is thus far distinctly lacking with most existing initiatives.