Health and Wellbeing

Discussions on gender equality and women's empowerment within the context of health and wellbeing in development have for many reasons focused traditionally on women and girls.  Since health is public as well as private, however, and since gender is relational as well as socially constructed, it is essential to also understand how men's and boys' broader health and well-being – alongside that of women and girls – helps or hinders in terms of creating enabling environments for improving gender equality and supporting the empowerment of women and girls.  

This theme complements that on sexual and reproductive health and sexuality to explore the role of other health issues, such as stress, depression and addiction, in terms of men’s and boys’ relation to gender equality.  Three reasons for exploring men’s broader health in relation to gender equality include:

  1. its gendered relational impacts on women, children and others (such as depression and alcohol abuse fuelling some men's violence and sexual risk taking, or inability to adjust to sharing domestic care work),
  2. the gendered nature of the socio-economic or structural drivers of such health problems (such as economic crises and stress combined with expectations of masculinity contributing to depression, mental ill health and/or substance abuse) and
  3. the importance of identifying policies and programs which can positively address individual, relational and structural factors that implicate men's poor health and undermine gender equality.      

There is now a wealth of evidence suggesting that dominant constructions of masculinity, such as notions of invulnerability and the promotion of risk-taking, influence men’s poor health and excess mortality, thus impacting on relationships and public health more broadly. Factors associated with this include men’s poor self-care, their avoidance of preventive care, delaying of treatment, and under-use of health services, most of which also affects other people.  Furthermore, age or generational differences affect how boys construct their identities and versions of masculinity, with implications for working differently with different types of boys and men to create an enabling environment for gender equality. Whilst some recent men's health literature has highlighted specific health burdens that men face more than do women, such approaches can become divisive and often fail to appreciate the complexity of issues in men’s health and their relation to that of women and girls, or the societal and structural factors driving the problems.

Key areas of concerns are how policies and programs can best respond to the ways that social norms promote unhealthy stereotypes of manhood, or deeper social, economic and political dynamics encourage men to compromise their health. It is important to further explore how to develop capacities among health (including public health) professionals to understand and apply gender perspectives in their care with both men and women, as well as to address structural barriers to gender inequality.

Case studies

'Beyond the prostate: Brazil’s national healthcare policy for men (PNAISH)', EMERGE Case Study 1

How Brazil's national healthcare policy for men is helping to create positive changes in gender roles and relations.

Learning aims

  1. Evidence on men's behaviors, attitudes and social relations influencing health seeking, prevention and care behaviors, including on their attitudes and roles in relation to efforts for women's health, well being, empowerment and gender equality
  2. Understanding the social, economic, inter-generational and political factors that drive or influence men's health and its' relational impact on women, over recent decades
  3. Identification of best practices including policies and programs to address individual, relational and structural factors that implicate different groups of men's poor health and undermine gender equality