EMERGE Evidence Review

Jerker Edström (ed.)
Alexa Hassink (ed.)
Thea Shahrokh (ed.)
Erin Stern (ed.)
Publication Date
September 1, 2015

"Twenty years after the Fourth World Conference on Women and its Platform for Action, in Beijing 1995, the call for working with men and boys to promote gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment has become commonplace in development. Yet, this agenda still needs a better overview of available evidence to inform policy and practice."

This evidence report is designed to help answer the question: ‘what works best when it comes to engaging men and boys for gender equality?’ The review explores, over a timespan of 20 years, the nature of changing social norms and the institutional arrangements and structures which sustain or shift norms and attitudes related to men’s and boys’ support for gender equality. It looks at successful policies and programmes, implications for best practice, as well as future directions across a variety of priority thematic areas. The review was produced by Engendering Men: Evidence on Routes to Gender Equality (EMERGE), a two-year project to build an open repository of accessible evidence and lessons for working with boys and men to promote gender equality. The project was implemented by the Institute of Development Studies, Promundo-US, and Sonke Gender Justice between January 2014 and January 2016, with funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID). There are two documents that emerged out of this evidence review: the full Evidence Report, which explores the findings of an extensive literature review covering various thematic areas related to promoting men’s and boys’ support for gender equality; and the Evidence Summary, which highlights common themes and promising practices identified from the review, as well as lessons learned and recommendations for the way forward.     

The full Evidence Report consists of chapters (written by a different author/s) which review the changes that have taken place in a particular thematic area. The following is a list of each of the chapters and a brief outline of what they cover:

Introduction: Framing the evidence and shifting social norms - What are social and gender norms and how do they change? What are some of the broad trends that drive and constrain progress towards gender equality? This chapter explores the broader processes that drive and constrain change across education, health, caregiving, political and economic participation and more. It explores how long-standing gender norms and expectations are informed and reinforced by social groups and institutions, and embedded in social and power relations. It provides context as to how large social, political, and economic forces drive change at both the societal and individual levels, and outlines promising interventions, gaps and blind spots, and recommendations for the future of the field.

Poverty, work and employment - Globalisation and macroeconomic policy over the past 30 years have increased women’s participation in formal and informal paid work, whilst their responsibilities in unpaid domestic work have not been significantly reduced. This chapter aims to trace evidence on recent trends in work and poverty amongst men and women, how policy and institutions have mediated these changes, the role of men and boys in economic empowerment strategies, as well as identifying evidence of what may work for transforming gender relations in the domains of work and poverty reduction.

Fatherhood, unpaid care and the care economy - How have social and gender norms around fatherhood, caregiving and unpaid work shifted in the past 20 years? How do men’s roles as caregivers impact gender equality more broadly? This chapter provides an overview of some of the broad shifts in unpaid care work and men’s caregiving at the international, national, local and individual levels. It looks at successful and promising policies that seek to create systemic shifts in the care work dynamic, including paid, non-transferable paternity leave, and other policies tailored to informal work economies. Finally, it provides programmatic strategies that have been successful in engaging men to shift gender norms around fatherhood, caregiving and balancing the care divide.

Education - What is the transformative function of education to challenge patriarchal power relations learned and reproduced in school settings? This chapter explores recent trends and shifts in gender and education, reviews educational sector efforts, teacher trainings, curriculums, and policies that have sought to or have evidence of transforming gender inequalities and harmful gender norms in schools. The chapter also considers strategies to engage parents and community members within the education system for gender-transformative efforts and pedagogical approaches that adopt a more gender-equitable teaching–learning experience.

Sexual health and rights - What are the most effective and promising approaches to transform norms of masculinity that have been found to influence men’s sexual attitudes and behaviours, including their utilisation of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services? This chapter reviews recent trends around the promotion of men’s sexual health and rights in ways that advance gender equality and support the SRH of girls and women, and how institutions, including political, religious, and health systems, have in fluenced these shifts. Key areas of concern for promoting men’s sexual health and rights are how to promote and ensure the sustainability of long-term attitude and behaviour change regarding men’s  sexual health, which require more large-scale, long-term evaluations.

Health and wellbeing - What are the most promising and effective ways to challenge dominant constructions of masculinity, such as notions of invulnerability and the promotion of risk-taking, which influence men’s poor health and excess mortality? This chapter explores gendered disparities in health and wellbeing, including the complexity and diversity of men’s health in relation to women and girls, and how these are influenced by relational, institutional, and structural factors.

Sexual and gender-based violence - Three reasons to focus on men in sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) include that: perpetrators of violence are overwhelmingly men and boys; constructions of masculinity work across individual to societal levels, driving gendered violence, and; violence is also of concern to men and boys. The evidence reviewed in this chapter reveals a series of key findings, including that a focus on attitudes alone neglects the structural violence and institutional inequalities which are shaping SGBV. Programmes explicitly addressing norms, behaviours, and relations associated with ideals of manhood can indeed be gender-transformative, but with important caveats. For example, men and boys should not be treated as a homogenous group, and programming must not reinforce binaries between men and women.

Conflict, security and peace building - How do experiences of conflict and peace-building affect men and women differently? What can be done to ensure that after conflict, communities establish sustainable peace and codify gender equality? This chapter presents some of the broad shifts in the past 20 years with regard to trends in conflict and peace-building and their influence on gender roles and dynamics. It presents examples of policy solutions, including those to eradicate sexual violence in conflict by labelling and prosecuting it as a war crime and those promoting women’s participation in peace-building. It also presents programmatic strategies to engage men thoughtfully for gender-equitable outcomes in conflict, peace-building and post-conflict through their various roles as perpetrators, victims, leaders, and agents of change.

Public and political participation - How can men’s s control and domination of political and public spaces be transformed? This chapter turns to the theme of greater gender equality in public participation and politics, and especially with respect to men’s relevance to–and roles in– achieving it. This is an area where relatively little evidence seems to be available.

Based on the evidence emerging from the above literature review, the Evidence Summary states the following:
"The perceived roles of men in gender and development work have shifted: Initially they were invisible, then promiscuous, violent perpetrators; towards understanding them as socially constructed within wider contexts of power relations and dynamics of masculinities (including as victims); towards understandings that men also have interests in ending gender inequalities (e.g. violence, health etc.) from self-interest to broader perspectives based on equality and rights. Some key findings in the available evidence highlight:

  • Diversity: Men’s support for women can be different based on in which capacity men appear (fathers, brothers, bureaucrats etc.) with implications for how different men and boys are constructed or engaged in policy and practice.
  • Complexity and change: Men relate differently to women’s empowerment; from ‘obstructive’, through ‘ambivalent’ to ‘supportive’, and can change their stance.  Each man can also take multiple roles in public vs. private spaces, depending on personal and political interests (e.g. publically supportive whilst privately unreconstructed, or vice versa). Understanding these complex – or conflicted – positions and interests are important in helping different types of men to change and take on more constructive roles.
  • Intersectionality: When other social inequalities and interests (such as class or race) converge with – or override – gendered differences, this can affect how men may support women’s empowerment or representation. Much of the work has become seen as depoliticised by pro-feminist men, who call for ‘making the personal political’, by raising men’s consciousness of gender injustices, whilst also holding them to account for their use of privilege. Linking gender to other issues of social injustice can facilitate men working more effectively with women for gender-equality."

In terms of effective and promising interventions, the Evidence Summary makes the point  that, “[G]etting men’s support for gender equality requires progressive policies, but these must be complemented by various strategies for wider social change that influences norms, behaviours and attitudes at multiple levels, such as:

  • National policy  change provides an important framework for facilitating work towards gender equality with men and boys. For example, the Brazilian government have developed a specific national policy on men’s health that provides guidance on the relationship between harmful masculinities and men and women’s health outcomes.
  • Working within institutional settings to challenge gender inequalities  provides key opportunities for embeding gender equitable approaches at a national scale. Workplace policies and initiatives in health, education and justice settings are critical for translating international agreements and national policy into practice, for example through implementing gender equitable parental and family leave policies, and in addressing gender violence.
  • Working with men and women together in a syncronised way, addressing both women’s and men’s needs, have been shown to be effective. Economic empowerment outcomes have been shown to improve when men are engaged as partners in interventions traditionally targeted at women, such as in micro-finance.
  • Community interventions engaging men in interpersonal gender issues, such as within the home, have also been shown to be an important entry point for more political and public pro-feminist engagement. Men’s accountability for addressing gender inequality at personal and political levels is an important avenue for further exploration.

Strategies with men and boys shown to be effective at the individual and community level in changing gender attitudes and behaviours include a combination of peer education, using male advocates, large-scale media programs, workplace programs and community/rights-based programming that aim to reduce gender inequality by working to change social norms. Common characteristics of effective strategies include those that:

  • Are linked to national, state-level or municipal policies, which are sensitive to gender equality.
  • Are based on relational, intersectional conceptualisations of gender for engaging men and women/boys and girls.
  • Use group and participatory approaches for challenging harmful masculinities and patriarchal ideologies.
  • Emphasise participation, mobilisation and ownership by socially just and democratic actors and institutions.
  • Are complemented by awareness raising campaigns to reinforce messaging.”

The Evidence Summary also highlights some of the gaps and blind-spots, stating that:” There is a need for more research on the contextualised understandings of men’s and women’s experiences in relation to changing social, political and economic trends and processes. Research could also focus better on how relations between these trends and gender relations at different levels develop over time, ideally through longitudinal research. Limited information about men and boys’ gendered needs and development (in health, education, violence prevention and work) creates a poor foundation for interventions that engage men and boys in transformative change.  In terms of operations and policy research, key gaps include:

  • There is still a serious gap in programming and action research with men and boys that goes beyond interpersonal issues, and thus also a lack of research into the effectiveness of such strategies.
  • Most interventions with men and boys are still small scale and intensive, leaving the need for research into the sustainability of interventions and how such approaches could best be scaled up through policies or other means. 
  • Longer-term evidence on impacts on boys’ and men’s development remains scarce, as programmes and evaluation approaches tend to be quantitative, short-term, and instrumental, with little attention to processes of change. 
  • Research is lacking on strategies to challenge gender inequity in within specific settings affected by broader political economy processes, such as addressing militarized masculinities as part of conflict prevention."

Click here to download the full 186-page Evidence Report.


EMERGE website on November 8 2016.