Global Resources

Engendering Men: A Collaborative Review of Evidence on Men and Boys in Social Change and Gender Equality

Author: J Edstrom (ed), A Hassink (ed), T Shahrokh (ed), E Stern (ed)
Publisher: Institute of Development Studies, Sussex [ES]
Publication Date: Sep 2015

In the twenty years since the Fourth World Conference on Women and its Platform for Action, the call for men and boys to be included in efforts to promote gender equality has become commonplace in international development. Yet, there is still much work to be done in providing an overview of available evidence to inform policy and practice. To help in this effort, IDS, Promundo-US, and Sonke Gender Justice collaborated in a two-year project entitled ‘Engendering Men: Evidence on Routes to Gender Equality (EMERGE)’ to build a repository of accessible evidence and lessons for working with men and boys to promote gender equality. This evidence summary highlights the lessons from a comprehensive literature review produced as part of EMERGE, and seeks to present those strategies that work best in engaging men and boys in terms of changing social norms and the institutional arrangements and structures which sustain or shift norms and attitudes.

The review noted several trends that have important links with gender equality: globalisation, urbanisation, increased enrolment in education, the changing nature of conflicts, and conservative fundamentalisms. These trends have been linked to men’s crisis of masculinity and a backlash against women’s empowerment in some settings, and these rapidly changing contexts must be included in understandings of relations between men and women. Also highlighted is the crucial role that institutions play in shaping social norms and gender policy; yet the patriarchal cultures and structures of institutions often remain intact, acting as a barrier to women’s involvement and transformative change.

Key findings include that: men’s support for women can be different depending on their role (father, colleague, bureaucrat etc.) with implications for how men and boys are constructed or engaged in policy and practice; this variety can create complex webs of positions and interests and must be recognised in full; and that such complexity also includes numerous other intersections beyond gender, including race and class. Linking these aspects to gender can facilitate men working more effectively with women for gender equality. Effective and promising interventions identified include: embodying policy at a national level, such as Brazil’s efforts to link harmful masculinities with human health; challenging gender inequalities within institutional settings; working with men and women in a synchronised way, addressing the needs of both simultaneously; and community-based interventions engaging men in interpersonal gender issues, particularly in the home.

The summary concludes with a look at the knowledge gaps and blind-spots, highlighting where mre research is most needed:

  • There is a serious gap in programming and action research with men and boys that goes beyond interpersonal issues, and thus the effectiveness of such strategies also.
  • Since most interventions with men and boys are still small scale and intensive, there is a lack of research into how best to scale-up and sustain interventions.
  • Interventions and programmes have tended to be quantitative and short-term, meaning there is a need for longer-term evidence on the development impacts on men and boys.
  • There is a particular need for strategies that challenge gender inequality in settings with broader political economy processes, such as militarised masculinities, as part of conflict prevention.


Finally, directions for the future are outlined, including: focusing on closing the aforementioned knowledge gaps; building upon work already done on processes of change, the actual and potential roles of men and boys in gender equality, and the best ways in which they can be engaged; the need to recognise men and boys in transformative and inclusive social change policies; the expansion of men’s engagement beyond speaking out against infringement of women’s rights to pro-active advocacy of women’s participation in politics and public life; the need for activism to focus more on institutions; and the creation and use of new gender sensitive indicators to track change and guide policies and programmes.