Do men matter? New horizons in gender and development


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Do men matter? 
New horizons in gender and development 

Why do men not feature more in gender and development policy? The shift in emphasis from
Women in Development (WID) to Gender and Development (GAD), from enumerating and
redressing women’s disadvantages to analysing the social relationships between men and women,
has not led to a recognition within policy of the need to understand the position of women and men.
Is there a need for an explicit focus on men in GAD?

With a few notable exceptions, men are rarely explicitly mentioned in gender policy documents.
Where men do appear, they are generally seen as obstacles to women’s development: men must
surrender their positions of dominance for women to become empowered. The superiority of
women as hard working, reliable, trustworthy, socially responsible, caring and co-operative is often
asserted; whilst men on the other hand are frequently portrayed as lazy, violent, promiscuous and
irresponsible drunkards. 

Why then, focus on men? Emerging critiques of policy argue for special attention to be paid to men
and masculinities in development, as follows:

Gender is relational It concerns the relationships between men and women which are subject
to negotiation in private and public spheres. To focus on women only is inadequate: a better
understanding of men’s perceptions and positions and the scope for changing these, is
essential. Exploring ‘masculinities’ includes focusing on socially constructed ‘ways of being a
man’ rather than simply on their physical and sexual attributes. Biological essentialism is
rejected in favour of an analysis of the social context within which gendered roles and
relations are formed. 

Equality and social justice Gender concerns should not simply be viewed as instrumental in
securing a more effective delivery of development. Instead, this critique recognises that men
as well as women may be disadvantaged by social and economic structures and that they
both have the right to live free from poverty and repression. Empowerment processes should
also enable women and men to be liberated from the confines of gender stereotyped roles. 

Gendered vulnerabilities Evidence from several studies suggests that while women in general
may face greater social and economic disadvantages, men are not always the winners and
that generalising about their situation risks overlooking gender-specific inequities and
vulnerabilities, such as the damaging health effects of certain ‘masculine’ labour roles or social

Crisis of masculinity It is suggested that changes in the economy, social structures, and
household composition are resulting in ‘crises of masculinity’ in many parts of the world. The
‘demasculinising’ effects of poverty and of economic and social change may be eroding
men’s traditional roles as providers and limiting the availability of alternative, meaningful roles
for men in families and communities. Men may consequently seek affirmation of their
masculinity in other ways; through irresponsible sexual behaviour or domestic violence for

Strategic gendered partnerships There is a strong argument that if gender-equitable change is
to be achieved in households, communities and organisations, then surely men are needed as
allies and partners? This links to concerns about the need to mainstream gender issues in
development policy to ensure that they are not sidelined or under-funded as ‘women’s

The authors in this issue of Insights authors raise a variety of key issues relating to new ways of
perceiving men in Gender and Development. The articles all explicitly or implicitly deal with ‘crises
of masculinity’ but differ considerably in their analyses and suggested solutions. Common to all
however is the need to locate the individual actions and beliefs of men and women within a wider
framework of social, economic and political change. 

The challenge, of connecting micro with macro analysis raises questions, reflected in Doyle’s and
Bujra’s articles about the efficacy of projects in significantly affecting gendered power relations.
They both question women-only projects, and the effectiveness of interventions which use gender as
an entry point for instrumentally tackling development problems without facilitating wider
empowerment or equality. As Doyle reports, women at a workshop on AIDS awareness in
Vietnam requested that men be similarly targeted. However, when men did participate, they
changed their behaviour in sexual relationships but not the way they fundamentally thought about
gendered relations of power. Bujra’s research in Tanzania and Zambia also asks whether AIDS
awareness campaigns significantly affect gender balances power and suggests that what needs
changing is not the behaviour of individual men and women but the relations between them. 

Changing ideas about men’s roles, varying cultural conceptions of masculinity, and the need to
challenge dominant definitions of ‘what it is to be a man’, are all strong themes in reported
experience of dealing with men and masculinities. This is well illustrated in Thomson’s description of
Save the Children’s work with boys in the UK who struggle to cope with changing roles (with the
‘crisis’ of masculinity), the discrepancy between publicly-sanctioned gender roles and what actually
happens in families, and the dynamic nature of gender relations. Indeed this dynamism echoes
throughout these articles, several of which link difficulties men may experience with responsible
partnering and parenting with changing expectations of employment and wider societal change. 

Montoya focuses on a campaign in Nicaragua aimed at preventing men’s domestic violence,
emphasising the need to understand the fears and insecurities that men experience in their
relationships with women. Interestingly, Montoya links the increased tensions and conflicts in
families to the environmental, economic and social devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch. 

Smith’s article on Oxfam projects supporting disadvantaged men in the UK highlights the problems
associated with lack of employment and the stereotyping of alternative employment opportunities as
‘women’s work’. The changing shape of men’s working lives and the ways in which policy
interventions conceptualise gendered divisions of labour are key issues in studies of men and
masculinities (see European Journal of Development Research, December 2000). For example, are
different forms of work empowering or oppressing for men and women? How do gendered labour
allocations impact upon health and wellbeing? Is it correct to assume that ‘women do all the work’
in developing countries? There is an urgent need to further investigate relations of power and
domination in men’s working lives.

Kandirikirira’s and Dolan’s articles explicitly link individual state action (or inaction) with the
development of damaging forms of masculinity, expressed in violence. They differ significantly
however in their suggested policy implications. Kandirikirira attributes the sexually violent and
abusive relationships between boys and girls in Namibia (sanctioned or ignored by elders) to the
policies of the previous apartheid state which systematically distorted the image of black people and
restricted their opportunities. Participatory approaches have begun to help overcome this legacy as
individual stakeholders become aware of their own responsibility and capacity to tackle injustice
and inequitable relations. Dolan, by contrast, in analysing the prevalence of gender- related violence
in Uganda, attributes this to the weakness of the state, to its incapacity to maintain the rule of law
and to the threat to masculine identities that this constitutes. The developmental challenge, Dolan
argues, is to hold states rather than individuals to account and to focus more widely on the political
context in which masculinities are formed. 

Men and masculinities is a relatively new area in gender and development. Ideas concerning policy
implications are in their infancy. How can research, policy, and training contribute to the debate and
complete the shift from WID to GAD so that the situation of women and men is better understood?
Suggestions include: 

investigating the changing roles, needs and identities of men over lifecourses 
researching men’s roles in families, the reproduction of gender inequities through work, and
men’s specific health vulnerabilities. 
tracking and monitoring changes in gender relationships over time, in different cultural
contexts, in association with programmes and policies 
developing positive role models for men and boys by influencing mass media images,
establishing activities in schools, NGOs, religious and youth groups 
ensuring that legal frameworks supports gender equity, through regulating working hours,
parental leave provision, improved maintenance and inheritance laws, for example 
improving gender training within development organisations to focus on gender and not
women alone: for example by increasing the number of male gender trainers and improving
gender analysis frameworks 

Contributor(s): Frances Cleaver 

Date: 08 January 2001 

Further information: 
Frances Cleaver 
Development and Project Planning Centre,
University of Bradford
Bradford BD7 1DP, UK

Tel: +44 (0) 1274 233 967
Fax: +44 (0) 1274 235 280
Email: f.d.cleaver(at)  
Development and Project Planning Centre, University of Bradford, UK


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