Working with Men and Boys to Combat Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Mawazo Biteko lives in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo and has participated in the Tushinde Ujeuri Project, which is implemented by IMA World Health, part of the Corus International family of organizations. The program offered comprehensive support for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Mawazo’s husband encouraged her participation after she experienced violence in her workplace. (Photo credit: Paul Jeffrey)

Working with Men and Boys to Combat Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

  • Noshaba Zafar
  • Nov 25, 2021

As we commemorate 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, Corus International's Senior Technical Advisor for Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, Noshaba Zafar, reflects on the importance of all genders working together for gender equality. Corus International is an ensemble of global leaders in international development and humanitarian assistance, including public health agency IMA World Health, global non-governmental organization Lutheran World Relief, U.K.-based technology for development company CGA Technologies, impact investing group Ground Up Investing, and direct trade company Farmers Market Brands.

Gender identities prevalent in society impose distinct expectations and roles on individuals. External conditions stemming from poverty, conflict, disaster and political turmoil complicate societal norms and become obstacles for advancing gender equity. Persistent gender inequalities, and unfulfilled gendered expectations, are often the root cause of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), which is overwhelmingly, but by no means exclusively, perpetuated against women.

Current gender norms give men great power as they control many aspects of the lives of women, not only as husbands, fathers, brothers and heads of households, but also as community leaders, leaders of religious institutions and government officials. With a greater social value on men over women, men often have control over finances, assets and even the reproductive health of women. Changing this unbalanced and unequal relationship is the key to advancing gender equality.

Shifting power dynamics by engaging with men and boys

Instead of perceiving men solely as perpetrators of violence or gatekeepers, it is now widely acknowledged that work with men and boys is critical to combatting SGBV. Growing evidence shows the need for a multisectoral response to SGBV that recognizes the social constructions of masculinity, the vulnerabilities of men and the harmful gender stereotypes imposed upon men and boys. There is a great need for reinterpretations of mainstream thinking on the existing power structures that privilege men over women.

Therefore, effective campaigns for responding to SGBV need to respond to the power dynamics and norms that influence SGBV at the household and community levels.  It is critical that we are aware of the diversity and intersectionality of identities across groups of men, women, non-binary individuals, youth and children. Responses to SGBV must employ gender analyses to understand the complicated and predominant gender attributes and characteristics that are enmeshed with issues of violence.

We need to strive for partnership between all genders. By engaging young men and boys in programs that promote gender-equitable attitudes and behaviors, there is greater possibility for long-term change. Such programs should challenge youth’s harmful notions about manhood and masculinity by involving them in program design and in ongoing communications and advocacy work. This can lead to healthier relationships and partnerships within homes and families.

Strategies to involve young men and boys in addressing SGBV in development interventions include:
  • Identify young boys as youth leaders & role models in promoting positive behavioral change
  • Design social mobilization strategies to address conservative gendered roles and responsibilities
  • Train parents to promote violence-free home by initiating discussions on manhood and positive masculinities
  • Enable men and boys to engage positively around sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) with their partners, families and communities
  • Initiate dialogues with first-time fathers on promoting positive masculinities and modeling behavior
  • Assess vulnerabilities and SRHR issues and challenges faced by young men and boys
  • Target Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) while designing mainstream education programs
  • Address stigmas around men and boys’ engagement in reproductive health discussions, family planning and fatherhood
Partnering for gender equality

To create a future that is free of SGBV, we must engage with men and boys as allies and partners in eliminating violence. Gender equality is not a women’s issue, it is an issue for all genders and for all people.