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General considerations

Last edited: October 30, 2010

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Make an explicit effort to discuss gender and masculinities and to transform gender norms

Programmes with men and boys that include deliberate discussions of gender and masculinity (including within messages and as part of staff training) and clear efforts to transform such gender norms are more effective than programmes that merely acknowledge or mention gender norms and roles.

What should these efforts highlight?

  • The fact that gender norms are socially constructed, as opposed to biologically determined.
  • How gender may negatively affect boys and men.
  • How gender affects and determines the power relationships and inequities that influence violence against women and girls.

Question existing roles, but do not prescribe particular behaviours

Promote a ‘bottom up’ approach and equip boys and men to make informed decisions about their attitudes, behaviours and life choices, promoting discussion of gender norms so as to challenge them.

Lessons learned about not prescribing particular behaviours

  • Prescribing a particular behaviour which is labelled ‘correct’ will not appeal to a wide range of the population.
  • Recognize that there is a wide range of men and boys that fall between those who are violent and those who are pro-gender equality.
  • Help men navigate through the process of change by identifying specific opportunities for action rather than expecting a commitment to a complete personal transformation.
  • Challenge normative behaviours and gender roles so that such discussions and actions may have an impact on men’s beliefs and understandings of these complex issues.


Example of this approach in practice Sexto Sentido (Nicaragua)

 This is a multipronged behaviour change strategy developed by the organization Puntos de Encuentro in Nicaragua, is a good example of this approach in practice. See the case study.

Tools that promote a critical reflection about gender norms and non-equitable and violent versions of masculinity:

Necesitamos Poder Hablar/We Need to be Able to Talk (Puntos de Encuentro, Nicaragua). This manual and DVD make up a methodological pack to be used for talks and in workshops on machismo and its direct link to sexual violence and HIV and AIDS. The manual includes:

  • A conceptual framework and views on machismo, HIV and AIDS and sexual abuse.
  • Summaries of the special Sexto Sentido videos and a list of possible themes for group work.
  • A methodological guide for workshops.
  • A questions guide to use with the special Sexto Sentido video.
  • Guidelines and information on how to avoid HIV and AIDS and sexual abuse, for people who are directly affected.

The educational pack costs USD 20.00 and is available in English and Spanish. For more information send an email to The text version of the manual is available in English.


Program H Manuals (Promundo and partners, Brazil )

This is a set of methodologies to motivate young men to critically reflect on rigid norms related to manhood and how they influence their lives in different spheres: health, personal relations, sexual and reproductive health, and fatherhood. This toolkit provides programme planners, health providers, peer educators, and others who work with young people with innovative resources to facilitate discussions and encourage reflections about manhood.

The Program H toolkit includes the Program H Manual, featuring group activities for young men, the cartoon DVD “Once upon a boy” and its accompanying discussion guide. Each manual addresses a different topic, including:

  • sexual and reproductive health
  • fatherhood and care-giving
  • from violence to peaceful coexistence
  • reasons and emotions
  • preventing and living with HIV and AIDS
  • paternity, violence, emotions (including drug use) and HIV and AIDS

Download the toolkit in English, Portuguese or Spanish.

See the Program H Case Study and Evaluation Summary.

The Program H Manual was adapted to be used in the Indian context by the Population Council and CORO for Literacy with the support of Instituto Promundo. This adaptation is called Yaari Dosti and is available for download in English and Hindi.

The Program H Manual was adapted to be used in the Viet Nam context by TCDN-MOLISA, Save the Children and Instituto Promundo with the support of USAID and Pact Vietnam . This adaptation is available in Vietnamese. The Program H Manuals are also being adapted for Tanzania and the Balkan context and will be available for download soon.


Men As Partners: A Programme for Supplementing the Training of Life Skills Educators (South Africa)

The MAP initiative in South Africa produced the publication for use in working with men to address gender norms that put men and their partners at risk for negative reproductive health outcomes and gender-based violence. The manual addresses various aspects of violence, and includes a section on relationships that addresses controlling behaviours. Available in English.

See the Men as Partners Case Study.

Gender or Sex: Who Cares? Skills-building Resource Pack on Gender and Reproductive Health for Adolescents and Youth Workers, Ipas (USA). This manual offers an introduction to the topic of gender and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and is for professionals and volunteers who work with young people on the influence of gender on SRH issues. A workshop curriculum is provided that incorporates suggestions and feedback from organizations in various regions of the world. A series of participatory activities encourage participants to think about the difference between gender and sex as well as social values associated with women and men, femininity and masculinity. Available in English and Spanish.

Women and Men Hand in Hand against Violence (Kafa, Lebanon). This guide, by KAFA and Oxfam Great Britain, is a resource for practitioners and organizations working with men and boys. The resource provides guidance on engaging men and boys to address violence against women and girls, based on the context in  Arab communities across the Middle East and North Africa. Available in Arabic; 143 pages.


Hold men accountable for their actions

Although gender roles are socially constructed, each man can choose whether or not to act out their male privilege. Consequently, it is important to hold men accountable for the choices and actions they make, including violent acts they may have committed, while at the same time encouraging them to change.

Lessons learned about holding men accountable for their actions:

  •  Know what his legal responsibilities are;
  • Discuss limits of confidentiality at the beginning of activities when there are laws that require professionals to inform authorities when acts of violence are disclosed (for instance, if a law mandates that a provider inform the authorities of cases of violence against minors or when someone is believed to be in imminent danger); and
  • Know about programmes for victims and aggressors so that appropriate referrals can be made, if needed.

Provide examples of actionable steps

 Programmes need to give men and boys an identifiable action list as a starting point. Actions may produce an impact on men’s understanding of abstract concepts, such as gender equity and masculinity.

What are some actionable steps that men can take to prevent violence against women?

The White Ribbon Campaign which initially started in Canada and currently operates in over 55 countries offers the following steps:

  • Listen to women...learn from women.
  • Learn about the problem.
  • Learn why some men are violent.
  • Support White Ribbon Events.
  • Challenge sexist language and jokes that degrade women.
  • Learn to identify and oppose sexual harassment and violence in the workplace, school and family.
  • Support local women's programmes.
  • Examine how one’s own behaviour might contribute to the problem.
  • Work towards long-term solutions.
  • Get involved with the White Ribbon Campaign's educational efforts.

For further detail see the White Ribbon Campaign website.

For an extensive list of steps that men can take, please see a compilation of such lists on, a pro-feminist website, intended to advance the goal of gender equality and gender justice by focusing on men, masculinities and gender politics. The site is coordinated by Dr Michael Flood, a sociologist from the University of Wollongong, Australia.

Support gender-equitable men who can serve as role models and get the discussion going

 Not all men use violence, and not all men are privileged in the same ways by gender hierarchies (i.e. the social systems that establish greater power and authority for men as compared to women). In order to support those gender-equitable men who can serve as role models, initiatives can:

  • Identify gender-equitable voices through formative research, community assessments or through the initiative’s own activities and support them;
  • Acknowledge painful experiences (i.e. witnessing or experiencing abuse or having a close friend who is a victim of abuse) that often motivate men to become involved in this work; and
  • Support men in dealing with the isolation that many men feel when they stand up as advocates for women and for ending gender-based violence by connecting these gender-equitable voices in safe spaces.


What are some promising approaches to encourage and strengthen resistance to traditional notions of masculinity?

 Gender-equitable men who resist becoming involved in violence can be found at all levels of society and in many settings, regardless of social or economic level or the surrounding context (e.g. conflicts). Promising approaches to encourage what is sometimes called positive-deviance includes:

  • Enable men to reflect on the personal costs of violence;
  • Create alternative peer groups which do not support violence, such as sports clubs; and
  • Promote positive forms of masculine identity based on non-violence and care (Widmer et al. 2006).

Examples of initiatives that support gender-equitable men and promote resistance to traditional notions of masculinity:

Men as Partners in South Africa , works with the military, unions and schools to support men to develop alternative, peaceful ways of being a man.

Program H in Brazil works with boys and young men in the slums of Brazil , settings of renowned violence, by:

  • Identifying gender-equitable youth that can serve as peer educators;
  • Creating alternative non-violence peer groups;
  • Putting young men in contact with non-violent role-models; and
  • Making it cool to be non-violent by tapping into popular youth culture.

See the Program H Case Study and the evaluation.

The Australia Football League (AFL) implements a programme called Respect and Responsibility formulated with violence prevention agencies. In this programme, players volunteer to receive appropriate training in order to be co-facilitators alongside a trained educator. See the AFL (Australian Football League) (2005) Respect & Responsibility: Creating a safe and inclusive environment for women at all levels of Australian Football. Melbourne: Australian Football League, November.

Approach violence against women as a matter of social justice

Historically, activism around violence against women has mainly been spearheaded by women. This often results in men being sceptical of the true dimension of the problem and feeling no ownership regarding its solution.

How should programmes approach violence against women and girls as a matter of social justice?

  •  Present violence against women as an issue of human and civil rights and justice;
  • Do not pursue violence against women exclusively as a women’s issue;
  • Remind men that violence touches the lives of loved ones such as mothers, daughters, female colleagues at work, friends and others they may be close to; and
  • Start by involving men in specific institutions that work on social justice issues, for example, parliamentarians, NGOs, university student activists or organizers, United Nations agencies and others.
Many initiatives working with men to promote gender changes and end violence against women do so from a social justice approach, including the White Ribbon Campaign and Sonke Gender Justice.

Design programmes that can be sustained over time

 Programmes that are sustained over time and reinforce messages through multiple points of contact are stronger than those that occur at one point in time only (Berkowitz 2006).

Lessons learned about programme duration:

  • Longer term programmes are needed to change ingrained gender norms;
  • Be realistic about what can be achieved within a short period of time;
  • Obtaining long-term financial support may be difficult to achieve given that funding for programmes with men have tended to support shorter-term initiatives; and
  • It may be necessary to educate donors about the need for long-term financial support and about the limits of short-term interventions.

Ensure programmes are designed to deal with barriers that men may face when addressing gender-based violence.

 These barriers can include:

  • Lack of role models;
  • Not knowing what to do;
  • Not wanting to look foolish;
  • Appearing too feminine;
  • Appearing too sensitive;
  • Not fitting in with the men they know;
  • Feeling hesitant to challenge others about behaviour that they themselves may have done just last week or last night;
  • Guilt;
  • Fear of the intensity of issues, giving up male privilege, facing men’s anger, being a traitor, and being labelled gay; and
  • Anger about the issues, at themselves, and at other men. (From Funk, R. 2006, p.85)

A man who is changing his life and becoming more gender equitable may be seen as a threat to other men who may ridicule or harass him (de Keijzer 2004; Berkowitz 2004).

Be careful not to generate other inequalities or further entrench gender stereotypes

 All programmes working with men and boys, even those addressing other issues, such as HIV and AIDS, should consider whether their approaches, messages and/or imagery unintentionally reinforce unhelpful traditional stereotypes about men and women that contribute to violence against women and girls.

Programmes that involve transformation in gender roles and social norms should also be conscientious about unintentionally generating other gender discriminatory attitudes (such as men feeling that they need to ‘protect’ women by limiting their mobility, freedom or privacy) or anti-equality perspectives such as homophobia that sometimes arise. The sexual orientation of men who speak out against sexism is often questioned, as a conscious or unconscious strategy intended to silence them, resulting in few men who do speak out (Jackson Katz).


Example: How Gender Stereotypes Can Surface in Group Work with Men

Various initiatives, such as Program H, Men As Partners and others report that a homophobic discourse is often present in groups. One young man in a Program H group, for instance, likened having gay friends to hanging out with delinquent peers, saying: “If you walk around with him (a gay person), everyone will think that you are like him.” According to the facilitators, it seemed easier for the young men to accept the breaking of a law (being a thief, using drugs) than the societal norm of being viewed as ‘not a real man’ (referring to being gay). Gender stereotyping is not only a problem that leads to the taunting, discrimination and even violence against individuals that do not conform to the societal norm, but it may also encourage young men to be violent so as not to be labelled weak, ‘a sissy’ or ‘not a man’.

What steps can programmes working with men and violence take to address negative reactions, such as ridicule and harassment, entrenchment of gender stereotypes, an increase in discriminatory attitudes and other unintended consequences?

 Work on one’s own attitudes, beliefs and values: change must begin at home. This includes providing opportunities for all staff, volunteers, etc., to think and talk about their own attitudes, beliefs and values in relation to gender stereotypes and sexuality. Staff and volunteers must also be held accountable for how their attitudes, beliefs and values affect their work with men and boys on violence.

Work on feelings (the emotional level) as well as understandings (the intellectual level). Traditional gender stereotypes and sexuality should be approached at both the intellectual level, in terms of knowledge and attitudes, and the emotional level, in terms of feelings. Men need spaces to talk about their feelings regarding sexuality as well as to be educated about homophobia as a form of oppression.

Point to the connections between homophobia and sexism more clearly. Society’s ideas about gender differences divide women from men by putting each in its own ‘gender box’. It is important to help men and women see that the fear of homophobia is linked to the belief in fixed gender roles. (Greig and Peacock, 2005)

Be prepared to respond to slurs regarding sexuality and personal integrity just as you would racist or sexist slurs.

Be as well informed as possible, respect the person challenging you, focus on challenging the negative opinions rather than the person.

Don’t expect to win or lose an encounter, you are there to say things that need to be said, the main point is getting information across.

Avoid debating religious arguments when a person has strongly held views, it may be more productive to discuss sexuality issues in terms of how the person is feeling when derogatory names are used.

Be ready to respond. Some responses include:

  • I have a friend/brother/sister who is gay/lesbian and I find your comment offensive; or I find words like _______ (include known insulting words) offensive and hurtful.

Use the NAC approach:

  • Name it: ‘That’s a problem’
  • Refer to Agreement: ‘Our ground rules state no put-downs’
  • Give Consequences: ‘If you use a put-down again you will have to follow disciplinary procedures’ (make sure the disciplinary procedures referred to are specific to the actions, tailored to the group and agreed by all members at the outset of the programme).

Source: Talking Sexual Health. 2001.Debbie Ollis and Anne Mitchell. Available in English.

Resources that can be used to promote respect for diversity

Young Women and Men: Recognizing and Respecting Diversity ( Salud y Género, Mexico ). This Methodological Guide was spearheaded by the Mexican organization Salud y Género, along with Program H partners. It targets young men and women with a variety of techniques to promote respect for sexual diversity. It contains a variety of techniques. Available in Spanish only.

Additional Resources

An additional list of teaching resources on gender and sexuality has been compiled by Michael Flood and is available in English.

‘Sexual Orientation’ Group Exercise

This 15 to 30 minute exercise is taken from Men As Partners (MAP): A Programme for Supplementing the Training of Life Skills Educators (Second Edition) by EngenderHealth and Planned Parenthood Association of South Africa. Its aims are:

1. To facilitate an understanding of the different types of sexual orientation

2. To examine societal attitudes about homosexuality

3. To clear up myths that might exist about homosexuality

Dowload the exercise and manual.

Not Round Here: Affirming Diversity, Challenging Homophobia: Rural Service Providers Training Manual (2000) by Kenton Penley Miller and Mahamati. This training manual provides a wide range of exercises to explore homophobia. Available in English.

Afraid of What?Video developed by Promundo and Program H partners which uses only sounds and music (no words) to address homophobia with a variety of audiences. Available in English.