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Engaging Men in Gender-Transformative Actions

by Maria Francisca Gonçalves

If gender is socially constructed through actions and norms based on cultural, biological and psychological interpretations, one could argue that discrimination as an act is one of its manifestations. And on the basis of gender, access to resources, power and control is determined as a result of roles, power relations, responsibilities, and expectations defined by gender norms.

Since gender stereotypes are learned concepts, this means that they can also be unlearned or learned differently. Consequently, men’s ideas of what it means to be a man can change. However, for this change to occur, we need to engage men in addressing stereotypical ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman. The inclusion of young boys is also crucial, as gendered behaviours are shaped in childhood.

Why does feminism need men? And why do men need feminism? First, because feminism isn’t a label, but an action, a movement to eliminate gendered oppression and promote gender equality. Feminism allows men and women to freely express their own individuality. Masculine perceptions are harmful both to men and women, such as: men are though, men need more sex, men are the breadwinners, men are head of the families, men are dominant, etc.

One of the biggest challenges is that men are the main perpetrators of violent acts. So, accountability mechanisms should be strengthened and made available for women to report GBV. Yet men are too rarely seen as potential victims, allies, or participants in the effort to end violence. Therefore, it is important for RWAMREC to promote research and projects aimed at understanding how constructions of masculinities can contribute to cycles of violence, as perceptions of masculinity are also key barriers to women’s empowerment.

Furthermore, understanding violence against women is incomplete if it does not include gendered practices that harm men and does not acknowledge that gender is also an issue for men. This recognition is key to creating long-term, sustainable gender transformation projects/programs, and this is where the MenEngage Approach and Alliance enters.

It is important to clarify that the MenEngage exists in the form of a network of NGOs from the Global South and North that advocates men and boys for women’s rights, gender justice, LGBTQI rights, and social justice for all by promoting positive forms of masculinity.

Alternatives to hegemonic masculinity that promote more inclusive, sympathetic, compassionate and egalitarian forms are referred to as positive masculinity. RWAMREC is an organization that works to promote these at country and regional level. RWAMREC has developed several theoretical models for behavioral change, primarily based on its main approach “the MenEngage”. One of the main strategies RWAMREC uses in its activities is the Journey of transformation model (JOT). This model engages couples in promoting gender equality, ending sexual and GBV in households, communities and workplace, while supporting women's economic empowerment. An excellent example of another gender-responsive intervention is curriculum-based interventions such as RWAMREC’s Bandebereho programme.

The question that arises is: does this approach actually work? RWAMREC has conducted a study on the impact of the Bandebereho gender transformative couples’ intervention and has concluded that our findings, together with previous studies, suggest that culturally appropriate gender-transformative interventions with men and couples can be effective in changing deep-rooted gender inequalities and a range of health-related behavioral outcomes.

RWAMREC research is thus already generating opportunities for future change by feeding research findings back to the communities and government partners and fostering entry points for new conversations about e.g. gender identity, roles and responsibilities and links to violence. In conclusion, feminism needs men, and men need feminism. Men from all social backgrounds should be intensively involved in programmes and campaigns to promote positive masculinity in the home and in everyday life. If men and boys are involved in changing attitudes towards women, then the prospect of building a more positive, responsible and safe environment is possible.

This article is published in the following link:

On the author: Maria Francisca Gonçalves is an intern at RWAMREC and is currently pursuing a masters in International Security at Sciences Po (Paris) with concentrations in Middle Eastern Studies and Diplomacy. She is also pursuing the Sciences Po's Gender Studies Programme, the Advanced Certification in Gender Studies. She enjoys all things MENA related and seeks to combine this with a passion for gender-transformative work.

1 Comment

May 03, 2023

A very well written article by Maria Francisca. Explains well the power of feminism in Rwanda. Congratulations to the author.

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