Evidence Report

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

"...engaging men in interpersonal gender issues have been shown to be an important entry point for more political and public pro-feminist engagement."

Designed to help answer the question, "what works best when it comes to engaging men and boys for gender equality?" around the world, this evidence review critically assesses trends and shifts in related social norms and structures over the past 20 years, successful policies and programmes and implications for best practice, and future directions for promoting men's and boys' support for gender equality across a variety of priority thematic areas. The result of a literature review process focused on materials published approximately over the last 10 years, the evidence review and accompanying summary document were produced by Engendering Men: Evidence on Routes to Gender Equality (EMERGE), a 2-year project by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), Promundo-US (United States), and Sonke Gender Justice with funding from the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID). The review explores the nature of changing social norms and the institutional arrangements and structures that sustain or shift norms and attitudes. A key finding from the review is that there has been a focus on individual women's or girls' empowerment rather than policy attention to gender relations or structural perspectives. Within this context, the review discusses the diversity, complexity, and intersectionality of men's roles in gender and development work. The review shows that getting men's support for gender equality requires progressive policies, but that these must be complemented by strategies for wider social change that influence norms, behaviours, and attitudes at multiple levels.

Recognising that changing the way men accept and live gender equality in their own lives is part of a broader social and political process of change, the first chapter explores the processes that drive and constrain change across the topics covered in the review (see below) to inform particular trends noted in the subsequent chapters. It explores how long-standing gender norms and expectations are informed and reinforced by social groups and institutions, and how context-specific gendered practices are embedded in social and power relations. Furthermore, it provides some context as to how large social, political, and economic forces drive change at multiple levels. Finally, promising interventions, gaps and blind spots, and recommendations for the future of the field are outlined. For example, it is noted that getting 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 - for example, the Brazilian government has 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 - defined here as critical for translating international agreements and national policy into practice (e.g., 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.
  • Community interventions engaging men in interpersonal gender issues, such as within the home. 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 programmes, workplace programmes, and community/rights-based programming that aim to reduce gender inequality by working tp 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; and are complemented by awareness raising campaigns to reinforce messaging. These may include the use of, for example, community radio, public service announcements, or media campaigns.

Each of the following chapters reviews the changes that have taken place in a particular thematic area. They provide a basis for future interventions that, through engaging both women and men, can potentially become institutionalised and, supported by governmental policies, lead to broader more sustainable change. The thematic areas include:

  • Poverty, work, and employment
  • Fatherhood, unpaid care, and the care economy
  • Education
  • Sexual health and rights
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Sexual and gender-based violence
  • Conflict, security, and peace building
  • Public and political participation - for example, the review found that, while quotas have improved women's numerical representation in politics in most countries, this does not seem to radically shift patriarchal norms within institutions of power. Evidence on effective strategies for men's engagement in gender-equal public participation is sparse, but examples include: strategies in formal political institutions; strategies for women's equal participation in wider social justice movements; and pro-feminist activism emerging from men's engagement in addressing gender-based violence in community-based initiatives. However, there is a major gap in programming with men in support of women's political empowerment, going beyond current programmes focused on interpersonal issues. There is a lack of evidence on effective approaches for increasing men's active support for and engagement in women's public participation.

The review finds that "[f]uture research should focus on gaps identified and build on what we already do know about how men and boys relate to gender equality in the following areas: processes of change, actual and potential roles and what seems to work best in work to engage them. Strategies that employ a relational, structurally contextualised approach to addressing gender inequality at different levels and scales must be developed and evaluated. This means new indicators of process and impact are needed and more 'researching up' on the gender dynamics in institutions of power." Some of the future directions outlined include:

  • "Men's engagement and activism for gender equality needs to go beyond speaking out on the violation of women's rights, to actively engage men in supporting women's participation in politics and public life, or demanding reform of patriarchal social, political and economic institutions.
  • Policy makers and activists need a greater focus on institutions to ensure that their strategies and policies support transformation in gender relations and that the opportunities for engaging men are understood and explored.
  • New gender sensitive indicators (not simply sex-specific or disaggregated) should be developed to track change and guide policies and programmes."

"The goal is to move beyond a narrow individualistic programmatic focus and attempt to achieve a broader and more comprehensive understanding of the interplay between laws, policies and institutional practices in achieving gender equality and the most effective pathways for sustainable change that take into account individual, community and structural factors."

Click here for the 168-page evidence review in PDF format.
Click here for the 4-page summary document in PDF format.


Men, Boys and Gender Equality section of the IDS website, January 13 2017. Image caption/credit: "One Man Can Community Mobilisers role playing during a training session in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, South Africa. By Ann Gottert