Alice Taylor
Tatiana Moura
J.L. Scabio
E. Borde
J.S. Afonso
Gary Barker
Publication Date
April 1, 2016

"In neighbourhoods rife with drug trafficking and criminal networks, many youth face pressure to join gangs and participate in a range of everyday violence. Despite overwhelming economic and social pressure, how do some boys and young men manage to resist violent pathways?" - IDRC

This report describes how many men and their partners and family members living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, build nonviolent alternatives, resisting daily those systems, groups, and practices that promote violence within the city. Sharing the results from the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) with a focus on urban violence, it was prepared by Promundo for Safe and Inclusive Cities (SAIC), an initiative of Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID). IMAGES is a multi-country study on men's practices and attitudes toward gender norms, gender equality policies, household dynamics, caregiving and involvement as fathers, intimate partner violence (IPV), sexual diversity, and health and economic stress. The research reported here examines the relationship of Rio de Janeiro's violence to gender norms and focuses on the interplay between urban violence and family and IPV.

More than 1,151 men and women aged 18 to 59 from different areas of Rio de Janeiro participated in quantitative interviews, which were carried out between 2013 and 2016. Results show that men's exposure to urban violence before age 18 is strongly linked to their later use of violence - including gender-based violence (GBV) - as adults. An average of 82.8% of the men interviewed, especially in favelas and other low-income, marginalised neighbourhoods, had experienced or witnessed at least two of the following before age 18: aggravated assault, violent treatment by the police, battering, exchange of gunfire, house or workplace hit by bullets, death threats, or being shot by a firearm. At critical points in life, boys and young men who lack attractive economic opportunities are invited to participate in drug trafficking and, oftentimes, encouraged to use arms or use violence in everyday life. At the same time, nearly 95% of men surveyed viewed gun ownership and use favourably, although a relatively small proportion of individuals reported that they owned or had ever used firearms. Women had less favourable attitudes toward firearms, but over 70% of all female respondents reported supporting gun ownership and use. The study also analysed respondents' fear of violence. Both men and women demonstrate less gender-equitable attitudes where exposure to urban violence is high compared with the area with less exposure to urban violence - suggesting that chronic fear of violence contributes to more adversarial or inequitable norms related to gender.

"Urban violence shapes and interacts with violent constructions of masculinities and creates family stress and individual trauma that likely contribute to the social reproduction of violence in the public and private spheres. The constant 'transfer' of violence from public spaces to the family and intimate partner relationships suggests the need for integrated prevention efforts that combine citizen security approaches with psychological support in the form of trauma therapy, in addition to community-based prevention initiatives to reduce gender-based and other forms of family violence. Such efforts must be accompanied by approaches that seek to change social norms about manhood from supporting 'being tough' and playing with guns to promoting caregiving and nonviolence."

While the study's quantitative household surveys were conducted with local men and women, the 14 key informant interviews and 45 in-depth life history (qualitative) interviews focused on men and families - including former drug dealers, police officers, activists, and their partners - who had chosen trajectories of nonviolence amidst groups in which they are encouraged to use violence. Fatherhood emerged as a central factor in directing a man's life trajectory away from violence and toward nonviolence. Other factors associated with nonviolent trajectories included: men's participation in domestic tasks; connection to social support circles; educational attainment; use of mechanisms to "cool down" and step away from conflict; broader life perspectives and greater urban mobility; individual traits such as emotional and pro-social skills, resilience, and motivation; and rejection of masculine norms tied to violence and the adoption of more gender-equitable attitudes and behaviours.

By group, men can identify key factors associated with promoting nonviolence in their lives. Former traffickers cite four factors: (1) assistance in leaving drug trafficking provided by non-governmental organisations (NGOs); (2) family pressure or support in leaving; (3) exit because of traumatic events and risks, such as the death of friends and being shot; and (4) rejection of masculine norms tied to violence and trafficking along with a redefinition of what it means to be a "real man". Police emphasise the need to prevent transfer of stress from work to home, and some reinforce the importance of seeking the underutilized psychological services within the military police force (PMRJ). According to activists who promote peace, their life trajectories show early rejection of violence, having nonviolent peer groups, and urban mobility (i.e., the ability to access resources and opportunities outside favelas and other low-income areas).

Recommended strategies, in brief, include:

  • Prioritise evidence-based programming to prevent GBV and urban violence and transform gender norms;
  • Offer spaces for youth to receive psychological support for addressing violence they have witnessed or experienced throughout childhood (including specific services to meet immediate needs such as health care) located in schools and other spaces youth frequent, in order to prevent intergenerational transfers of violence;
  • Offer evidence-based interventions for adult men who have used or may use IPV and sexual violence;
  • Adopt integrated strategies that support nonviolent trajectories within settings of urban violence, including investing in civil disarmament efforts and programmes that support and sustain young men to exit out of drug trafficking;
  • Address practical employment concerns so that economic necessity does not push men toward entry into drug trafficking;
  • Adopt approaches that recognise intersecting forms of vulnerabilities, i.e., interventions that reflect participants' age, race, childhood experiences, and aspirations (rather than replicate uniform approaches reaching out to youth);
  • Address police violence committed primarily against low-income, young black men, including via comprehensive police reform with transparency and reporting mechanisms;
  • Promote mediation training for young adolescents and adults to equip them with skills for nonviolent conflict resolution in communities and within their relationships and families;
  • Foster caregiving, involved fatherhood, and role models who are positive and nonviolent; and
  • Address the interplay between violence in the public and private spheres as a matter of urban violence by implementing integrated prevention of public violence and GBV and other forms of intra-family violence.

This study highlights the importance of bringing gender, and particularly masculinities, to the table when developing solutions to urban violence and public security. Responses can be more effective when policymakers understand that masculinities are shaped by urban violence, especially given the statistics on homicides in cities like Rio de Janeiro. It is argued here that strategies to promote nonviolence should be at the heart of a new agenda for public security and for safer, more inclusive cities. "This agenda should focus on promoting nonviolent, equitable, and caring versions of manhood. It should also focus on boys and girls, employing strategies to promote nonviolence and mitigate the effects of violence."

Click here for the 132-page report in PDF format in English.
Click here for the 136-page report in PDF format in Portuguese.


IDRC website; "Exploring non-violent male identities", IDRC, December 13 2016; and Promundo website - all accessed on June 9 2017. Image caption/credit: "A Brazilian protester in Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana Beach, holding a sign that reads, 'Your Sexism Kills!! No More Violence'." (Fernando Frazão/Arquivo Agência Brasil)