The extent of gender inequalities worldwide has been well documented. A recent World Health Organization (WHO) study found that between 30 to 50 percent of women in the countries studied suffered physical violence at least once from a male partner. Some 10 to 20 percent of women worldwide say their first sexual experience was forced. Women are also responsible for approximately three-quarters of contraceptive use worldwide. In addition to these inequalities, women face greater vulnerability to HIV/AIDS than do men—mostly because of men’s irresponsible behaviors and greater power in sexual and intimate relationships.
But these numbers tell only part of the story. For every man or boy who thinks that violence against women is acceptable, there are others who question it. For every man who thinks contraceptive use is a woman’s responsibility, there are men who use condoms regularly, who accompany their partners to seek contraception, or who get vasectomies. By listening to the voices of men and boys who question violence against women, or men who think that it is their responsibility, too, to plan their families and care for children, we can, perhaps, start to form more positive gender relations.
Since 1999, Promundo, a Brazilian NGO, has been working with partner organizations to identify and understand those men who are seeking and finding other ways to interact with women. Our work started in Brazil and Mexico, and has subsequently spread to India and parts of Africa. Specifically, we have been carrying out research to understand how it is that some men and boys come to question their privilege and power, and in the process treat their female partners differently.
In all three regions (Latin America, India and sub-Saharan Africa), the research started with a "mapping" of masculinity, with the goal of understanding how men and women view what it means to be men. In the process of interviewing men in each region, we identified individuals who questioned the prevailing views about manhood—for example, the idea that violence against women is acceptable, and that women alone are responsible for childcare and family planning. In in-depth interviews with these "more gender-equitable men," we sought to understand how it was that these particular men came to question the dominant paradigms.
These more gender-equitable men generally showed a high degree of self-reflection in the interviews, some awareness of the personal benefits of embracing gender equality, and usually had others around them—family members, a valued peer or peer group, or an adult male—who modelled gender-equitable attitudes and behaviors. These men sometimes also had seen or experienced gender violence—violence against a mother or sister when they were children, or perhaps had used violence against a female partner themselves. The resulting emotional pain to themselves and others had caused them to oppose or question such violence.
These research findings provided the conceptual framework for an initiative called Program H ("H" for homens, or men, in Portuguese, and hombres in Spanish), an alliance of NGOs (1) working to test and implement this process. Specifically, this formative research reinforced the need to: Work at the level of individual attitude and behavior change by engaging young men in a critical reflection on the costs of traditional versions of masculinity; and work at the level of social or community norms, including among parents, service providers, community and religious leaders, the mass media, and others that influence or model these individual attitudes and behaviors.
Building on these conclusions, Promundo and its partners designed integrated interventions to promote changes in community and individual norms of manhood. The main components of our intervention model are community campaigns, group educational activities, and an impact evaluation model to measure how attitudes and behaviors have changed at the community level. The group educational process creates a safe space in which young men can question traditional views about manhood.
The interventions were field-tested initially in six settings in Latin America and the Caribbean, and subsequently in two settings—in Mumbai, with adaptation underway in 2006 in Uttar Pradesh, and one in Tanzania with adaptation underway in 2006. These testing and adaptation processes have confirmed that the workshop model and its core principles of promoting critical reflections work across diverse settings.
The community campaigns aim to promote a more gender-equitable lifestyle among adult and young men. Sometimes Promundo works with men to identify their preferred sources of information and cultural outlets in the community in order to craft messages—in the form of radio spots, billboards, posters, and plays—that make it cool to be a more gender-equitable man. The campaigns are designed to encourage men to reflect about how they act as men, and enjoin them to respect their partners, to practice safer sex, and not to use violence against women.
Finally, the process is evaluated using a quasi-experimental research design and an attitude scale called the Gender Equitable Men Scale. Impact evaluation studies in Brazil and India have confirmed significant positive changes in men’s attitudes toward women, increased condom use in the case of Brazil, decreased use of violence against women in the case of India, and increased HIV testing in the case of Tanzania. The completed Brazil study included a control group and a follow-up one-year later. There was no change in the control group, and the positive changes were also affirmed one year later. In the case of India, Tanzania and Mexico, studies are still underway. Nonetheless, initial results have been consistent with the data from Brazil.
Building on this experience, Promundo and its partners are working to expand these activities. Ministries of health and national AIDS programs in Brazil, Mexico, and India have officially adopted Program H and are studying options for scaling up the activities. The UN Population Fund is working to incorporate Program H in national AIDS prevention and sexual and reproductive programs in Central America and the Caribbean. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank mentioned Program H in their 2006 annual reports as a promising intervention for engaging men and boys in achieving gender equality.
But the real challenge is still unfolding: How to take a promising practice and work with others to create a global movement? Indeed, Program H is but one approach to engaging men and boys in gender equality. A growing number of NGOs and governments around the world are taking seriously the gender equality gap.
In 2005, Promundo and several other organizations—EngenderHealth, Save the Children-Sweden, International Planned Parenthood Federation, the Indian NGO Sahayog, the Family Violence Prevention Fund in the United States, and the White Ribbon Campaign of Canada, among others—formed MenEngage, a global movement to engage men and boys in gender equality. This network, still in its initial stages, has since partnered with the World Health Organization and UNDP in Asia to plan how to expand this kind of work.
The WHO is currently supporting, with Promundo, a review of evidence from interventions that promote gender equality. Initial impact evaluation results show that, of approximately 60 programs, including Program H, nearly 60 percent show a reasonably rigorous impact in terms of attitude or behavior change. There is still much to do.
But these initial experiences—of Program H and other NGOs and governments working to engage men and boys in gender equality—confirm that change is possible. The challenge is how to reach even more men and boys, in collaboration with the public sector, to improve the lives of women and girls, and men themselves—building on the voices of those mostly silent men who already question gender inequalities.
1. The Program H initiative was founded by four Latin American NGOs, Instituto Promundo (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), PAPAI (Recife Brazil), ECOS (São Paulo, Brazil), and Salud y Gênero (México) in collaboration with International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF, Western Hemisphere Region) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). Additional partners in what is now called the Program H Alliance are: SSL International (makers of Durex condoms) (UK), World Education (USA), CORO for Literacy (India), Population Council (USA), PATH (USA), and JohnSnowBrasil. Information about Program H, including ordering or obtaining the Program H manuals and videos, can be found at http://www.promundo.org.br.