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Influencing policies and legislation

Last edited: October 30, 2010

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National laws and policies provide a foundation to address violence against women and girls. Whether national legislation, ministerial regulations, municipal by-laws, policy statements, strategic plans, protocols or other, these instruments can provide:

Guidelines for what is and is not acceptable in a society and the repercussions and entitlements that accompany those guidelines:

Articulation of the State’s position and plans to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls, including how men and boys will be explicitly incorporated.

Establishment of the roles and responsibilities of different actors within and outside of the government.

A mechanism for the allocation of funds to implement the outlined interventions.

A framework for monitoring the commitments made.

Laws and policies can be critical in determining the areas and levels of engagement that relate directly to working with men and boys in the context of violence against women, including for example, on perpetrator/batter intervention programmes; violence at schools and school-based prevention curricula; sexual harassment in workplaces; and on police, judicial and medical personnel obligations, among many other areas.

In addition to policies that are specifically related to violence against women and girls, others that relate to men and their roles in society are also important, especially policies that promote women’s human rights and gender equality across the spectrum of political, social, cultural and economic life, including shared rights and responsibilities in relation to men’s and women’s productive and reproductive roles.

Research shows that other factors can influence the perpetuation of violence against women. For example, since unemployment and underemployment are well-known triggers for violence and substance abuse, employment policy is an important entry point to address men in this context (Barker, Global Symposium 2009). Youth development policies and programmes are important for reaching young men and boys in efforts to challenge harmful gender stereotypes and values that legitimise violence against girls and women. Quality programmes to prevent and respond to child abuse (e.g. parental abuse, sexual abuse) are also important for prevention, given that boys who have been victims of violence have a higher propensity for becoming perpetrators of violence against women later in life.

To date, little has been done to incorporate men and boys in policies related to gender equality or violence against women and girls. Men have more often been considered in policies on sexual and reproductive health (e.g. family planning and HIV and AIDS in particular) and in their role as fathers, which are important components to engaging men in gender equality efforts, though they are not sufficient to address violence against women directly.

There is, however, growing recognition of this gap and promising initiatives are beginning to take root.

Examples of legal and public policy initiatives addressing men and violence against women:

Maria da Penha Law (Brazil)

As a result of discussions between women’s rights groups and groups working to engage men in violence prevention, the law includes language mandating the establishment of batterer intervention programmes with public funds from the Ministry of Justice, as well as violence prevention campaigns aimed at schools and the population at large. A user-friendly guidebook produced by the Centro Feminista de Estudos e Assessoria that includes the full text of the law is available in Portuguese.

Information on the law is also available in English and Spanish.

Preventing Violence before it Occurs: A Framework and Background Paper to Guide the Primary Prevention of Violence against Women in Victoria (Australia )

The State Government of Victoria inAustralia developed a coordinated, multi-sector plan to guide evidence-informed primary prevention policy and interventions, outlining priority strategies, settings and population groups. “Promoting equal and respectful relations between men and women” is one of the three main action areas with men and boys as one of the main target groups. The Government of Australia, in its 2009 Women’s Budget Statement has committed USD 20 million for its implementation with an additional USD 3 million for research on male attitudes that perpetuate physical and sexual violence and for prevention activities carried out by the White Ribbon Campaign.

The Framework is available in English.

The Men and Gender Equality Policy Project (Brazil ,Chile ,India ,Mexico ,South Africa , and other countries)

The International Center for Research for Women (ICRW in the US ) and Instituto Promundo (Brazil ) are currently implementing an initiative called the Men and Gender Equality Policy Project that will enhance the body of knowledge on how policies can encourage men and boy’s to participate in promoting gender equality and ending violence against women. The objectives of the project include:

  • Analyze the degree to which public policies related to gender equality include or engage men and boys.
  • Engage groups of policy makers and key experts in each of the collaborating countries in analyzing licy gaps and policy opportunities.
  • Carry out a qualitative study of men involved in alternative or non-traditional caregiving roles in each country as a way to map or understand the factors that lead men to change.
  • Publish a policy analysis toolkit for countries seeking to engage men and boys more adequately in gender equality policies.
  • Produce a video documentary on men, change and gender equality.
  • Develop and apply the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES), a standardized population-based questionnaire (one administered with women and another administered with men) to measure and monitor men’s behaviours and attitudes regarding gender equality and violence against women.

More information is available in English. 

“Men must teach each other that real men do not violate or oppress women – and that a woman’s place is not just in the home or the field, but in schools and offices and boardrooms.”







- Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, Global Symposium on Men and Boys

The Secretary-General’s Campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women

The United Nations Secretary-General launched the UNiTE to End Violence against Women Campaign on 25 February 2008, which will last through 2015, the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The overall objectives of the Campaign are to raise public awareness and promote social mobilization, and increase political will and resources for preventing and responding to all forms of violence against women and girls. A major theme and focus of the Campaign is on reaching out to men and boys, and a high-level Men Leaders Network is being put in place to serve as influential spokespersons. For more information about the Campaign, see its website ( and the Framework for Action, which details the overall efforts to be undertaken at global, regional, national and local levels, and identifies five key outcomes to be achieved in all countries by the 2015 deadline. One outcome is related to primary prevention, with explicit attention to working with men and young people. The Campaign includes a Network of Men Leaders.

Partners for Prevention: Working with Boys and Men to Prevent Gender-based Violence, A United Nations regional joint programme for Asia and the Pacific 2008-2011

Partners for Prevention is a UNDP, UNFPA, UNIFEM and UNV regional programme focused on primary prevention among boys and men through partnerships with policy makers, United Nations staff and civil society partners dedicated to women’s empowerment and ending violence against women and girls in the region. The initiative is based on the results of a two-year consultation process that focused on how a regional programme could leverage the existing work being undertaken at the local level on gender-based violence and women’s empowerment. The programme will work on:

  • Enhancing the knowledge and skills of local partners to engage in successful communication for behavioural and social change at the community level and through the use of modern technologies to reach youth.
  • Developing the capacities and networking opportunities of all partners through a regional web-based resource portal and community of practice to share research, programming and training tools, successes, programmatic insights and experiences across countries.
  • Consolidating and commissioning research to engage in evidence-based policy dialogue.

Youth Development Policies

Below are some relevant recommendations for addressing gender equality in youth educational and development policies:

  • Carry out critical reviews of educational curricula, including at the pre-school, primary and secondary level, to include ways of promoting gender equality that engage boys as well as girls, including in addressing and preventing gender-based violence.
  • Develop training for teachers, administrative staff and other groups dealing with children and youth (for example, school guidance counselors, health and social service professionals and police) to promote ways to engage boys and young men in gender equality. This should include sessions in which adult staff examine their own views about gender equality and assumptions about boys and male youth. Training should include orientation on how to help detect and refer girls who may be experiencing sexual abuse or harassment, and how to intervene in cases of harassment by boys and teachers.
  • In school reform efforts value gender equality as an educational outcome which is as important as basic literacy and numeracy.
  • Include messages and activities targeting boys and young men and promoting gender equality within existing sexuality education, HIV and AIDS prevention education and family life education curricula.
  • Use existing programmes with well-developed curricula and group education processes that have been evaluated and are successful in leading to attitude change, to engage boys in gender equality. Partnerships between Governments andnon-governmental organisations should be encouraged to make such curricula and strategies widely available.
  • Engage sports groups in the public and private sector to promote gender equality and non-violence among boys and men and towards women and girls. This should draw on existing experiences to engage boys through soccer coaches in Latin America, and ‘locker room’ projects used in some countries.

Adapted in part from: United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women with The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS, The International Labour Organization, and The United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Commission on the Status of Women Expert Group Meeting on “The Role of Men and Boys in Achieving Gender Equality”, Brazil,12 January 2004.

For policies and programmes related to addressing gender-based violence in education systems, see the Education Sector module.

Fatherhood Policies

Why are policies that promote men’s greater involvement in the family and childcare important?

  • By encouraging father’s greater involvement in childcare, policies have the potential to promote greater gender equality – a key step in violence prevention.
  • Positive father involvement increases the chance that sons will be more gender-equitable, and more nurturing as fathers, and that daughters will have more flexible views about gender as well (Levine, 1993; Russell & Radojevic, 1992).
  • Promoting men’s greater and more equitable participation as fathers can help to broaden women’s economic and employment opportunities by enabling them to dedicate more time to these activities.

What are some of the caveats regarding promoting father’s involvement with children as a strategy for violence prevention?

An emphasis by family courts and others on the need for children to see their fathers may expose increased number of children (and women) to violence and abuse by fathers (Flood in press; Eriksson & Hester, 2001). Although encouraging greater involvement by fathers in childcare is important in general, it should be shaped by the specific context and done with caution.

How can public policies encourage greater father’s involvement in childcare?

Public policies and labour laws may achieve this by allowing men to take time off for parental leave after birth or for participating in parent-teacher meetings, doctor’s appointments and in caring for a sick child.

Below are some recommendations on men’s involvement in parenting and household labour from a United Nations Expert Group Meeting:

  • Use financial and social policy to improve the balance between work and family life, and encourage men to make an equal contribution to domestic work.
  • Expand paternal leave provisions.
  • Create disincentives for employers to demand overtime work.
  • Create a legal structure for permanent part-time work and incentives for men to use it.
  • Develop aspects of family law that enable men to be active partners in the lives of children and dependents; review and make appropriate changes in adoption policies and the care of orphans and adopted children.
  • Take measures to help teenage and young fathers be involved in the support and care of their children while continuing their education and training. Such measures include: Requiring education and training institutions to design their programmes and schedules to facilitate care work by teenage and young fathers without breaks in study; and structuring health services concerning pregnancy and early childhood to promote the participation of young fathers.
  • Recognise workers’ childcare obligations in setting terms of employment and schedules of work.
  • Include incentives for childcare contributions in recruitment and promotion policies.
  • Build into collective bargaining strategies the possibility for men’s involvement in care work.
  • Develop programmes to provide boys and youth with specific skills, such as on child care or domestic work.
  • Engage religious organisations as partners in gender equality education for men and boys, inviting them to explore religious teachings (for example, about husbands in marriage relationships) that promote gender equality and social justice.

Source: United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women with The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS, The International Labour Organization, and The United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Commission on the Status of Women Expert Group Meeting on “The Role of Men and Boys in Achieving Gender Equality”, Brazil,12 January 2004.

Lessons learned regarding paternal leave policies

  • Having paternity leave policies in place may not be sufficient in those countries where such legislation applies only to men who have stable formal employment and does not apply to the vast number of men of low-income families in the informal sector.
  • Fathers may make low use of parental leave except when it is mandatory and when it is paid at same rate as the father’s salary (Cohen, 2000).
  • Even where paternity policies have long been in place, men may not take advantage of them for fear of retaliation by employers and sensitivity to how they may be perceived by their male peers or co-workers.

Examples of public policies that promote father’s greater involvement in childcare

Scandinavian countries’ progressive parental leave policies – in existence for nearly 20 years – provide important examples of encouraging father’s involvement in childcare:

  • In Norway, working parents are offered 42 weeks of paid Parental Leave.  Until 1993, this parental leave could be shared on voluntary basis by either parent, but fathers on average used less than 5 percent of the time.  In 1993, the law was changed to say that father had to use four weeks of this leave or the family lost it altogether.  As a result, use of parental leave by fathers went up to between 70 and 80 percent (Cohen, 2000), by 2005 it had gone up to 91 per cent (Norwegian Ministry of Children and Equality, 2008-2009). As of July 2009, the law states that fathers must take 10 weeks, extending the paid leave by two weeks (Communications with Ulf Rikter-Svendsen, 2009).
  • In Sweden, working parents have a right to 12 months of paid parental leave (paid at 80 percent of their salary) to share between them.  Prior to 1995, only 9 percent of total leave was used by fathers.  The law was changed in 1995, to make one month non-transferable for each parent.  Currently 70 percent of fathers in Sweden use this month, with 12 percent of fathers using leave beyond one month.  Use of the parental leave by fathers is higher among fathers with higher education and higher income; lower-income fathers say they cannot afford to lose 20 percent of their salary (Cohen, 2000).