3 Ways to Promote Positive Masculinity

May 18, 2022 3 minute read

Side view of animated male head silhouettes as we work to promote positive masculinity

To improve women’s health, education, economic, and political opportunities, the global community must reckon with gender-based violence (GBV) against women. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in three women around the globe experience (GBV at least once in their lifetime. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, all types of violence have intensified, including domestic violence.  

GBV negatively impacts survivors, their families, and the wider community through social and economic costs that can up to 3.7 percent of a country’s gross domestic product. 

What is Positive Masculinity?

GBV is not simply a women’s issue. It’s rooted in harmful norms and power imbalances at the household, community, and policy levels.  

As such, men and boys play a critical role as powerbrokers, influencers, and allies in the prevention of and response to GBV. Recently, promoting positive masculinity has become prioritized as a way to address GBV. 

Positive masculinity programming creates a safe space for men and boys to reflect on what it means to be a man and encourages them to redefine masculinity to be more emotionally expressive, inclusive, empathetic, and compassionate. This approach provides alternatives to the traditional and patriarchal masculinity that can be detrimental to men and boys and that is often a driver of GBV. 

Positive masculinity helps to focus the conversation on how men and boys can use their physical and emotional strength to champion women—which in turn, strengthens the entire community.

3 Ways to Promote Positive Masculinity

Through the USAID Catalyst Project, Resonance uses open innovation to source and implement programs that address GBV.  

With funding from USAID’s Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GenDev), Resonance has designed and implemented three challenges that are addressing GBV and promoting gender equality around the world:

Through these challenges, we are supporting projects that promote positive masculinity as a method of increasing gender equality and preventing GBV, thereby improving the lives of women, girls, men, and boys.  

From our work, we’ve identified several ways that the international development community can design and promote initiatives to help promote positive masculinity.  

1. Understand the Context and Power Dynamics in the Local Community

An essential first step to designing an intervention that promotes positive masculinity is to conduct a gender analysis that allows you to gain an understanding of how GBV manifests in the target community.  

The analysis should be inclusive of all members of the community, regardless of their age or gender. This will help you to identify and mitigate unintended negative consequences and understand the power dynamics of the people you will work with before diving into the intervention. 

BetterTogether Challenge grantee National Coordinating Coalition (NCC) wanted to address the GBV experienced by Venezuelan migrants in Guyana, but there was a lack of evidence to inform their approach. To gain an understanding of the context, NCC designed a phased program with a rapid GBV assessment and learned that Guyanese men’s sexist beliefs about Venezuelan women led to violence.  

With this knowledge, the NCC designed a radio drama series to promote positive masculinity among Guyanese men, as well as developed the country’s first wraparound service provision model to provide comprehensive support to female Venezuelan migrant survivors of GBV and their families.   

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2. Convert Male Decision Makers into Champions for Women

Although men account for less than half the world’s population, they make the majority of decisions. To create lasting change that elevates women as decision-makers, men must be engaged and willing to champion such efforts.  

One promising example that came from the RISE Challenge, is a project that the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (KWCA) is implementing which ensures more equitable access to and control of natural resources. KWCA is advancing equitable norms in Kenya by working with male conservancy board members and rangers to help them reflect on and address harmful gender norms that act as a barrier to women participating in and benefitting conservation activities.  

RISE Challenge grantees Trocaire and WfWI are also working to safely secure customary land tenure rights for women in Uganda and DRC, respectively. To increase their chances of success, both grantees are engaging male clan leaders, village chiefs, and husbands to shift social norms that act as barriers to women gaining their rights. Village chiefs led by example by providing their wives with customary land titles, demonstrating the importance of having men in leadership positions championing women.  

3. Facilitate Dialogue with Men at Every Level

Sustainable, long-term change is only possible when it has permeated every level of society.  

Since men often play a decision-making role at the household, community, and national levels, it’s necessary to engage them in dialogues about positive masculinity in every space.  

On a household level, BetterTogether Challenge grantee Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) has promoted positive masculinities in Panama through intrahousehold dialogues between Venezuelan migrants. These conversations have focused on traditional roles and individuals’ relationship to violence, with a particular emphasis on the violence Venezuelan men may have experienced during childhood or while migrating from their host country.  

On a community level, BetterTogether Challenge grantee Democracy International and its local partners in Trinidad and Tobago worked with men and women on harassment and GBV through community programming that sought to move the needle through awareness-raising campaigns and comprehensive case management. 

Reducing Gender-Based Violence Through Positive Masculinity 

Reducing GBV requires a holistic approach that engages all members of the community, not just women and girls.

As we look to the future, we are excited to have the opportunity to expand upon our previous work supporting positive masculinities with the recently launched MujerProspera Challenge, a regional challenge that promotes women’s agency in the workplace in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.  

We are optimistic that the engagement and commitment of women and men in promoting positive masculinity will help shift cultural and societal norms, reduce GBV, and improve the lives and livelihoods of millions of girls, women, men, and boys around the world.  

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If you are a corporate leader and would like to be a part of a discussion about these and other issues in the presidential transition, contact Resonance Strategic Partnerships Manager, Seth Olson.