Working Group 

Gender and Masculinity

EuroPROFEM - The European Men Profeminist Network 


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Working Group : Gender and Masculinity

International Forum on Gender, Humanitarian Action and Development

Working Group : Gender and Masculinity

· Issues :
- The questioning of Men’s Traditional Role
- How to involve Men in the Battle for Equality ?

· Points raised :
- The Absence of Men in the Battle for Equality :
- Male Reflection
- The Hegemonic Model of Masculinity
- Progress : International and National:
- Concrete Experiences : Groups of Men
- Conference with RECOMMENDATIONS

· Documents Annexed :
- Working Paper :
- Bibliography


MDM – Spain

Co-responsibility and New Masculinities
Women cannot hear what men don’t say
MDM - Spain Gender Group :
Enric Royo


Women have waged an age-long war to eliminate gender inequalities as well as to put an end to the social order that by its very nature subordinates them to men. This struggle has succeeded in introducing a series of social changes that have questioned the traditionally defined roles of men and women. Although the radical modification of the women's role has had a direct effect on the questioning of the roles traditionally defined as being for men, the latter are still the great absentees from the construction of this new social order. To break the traditional division of a productive function for men and a reproductive function for women, and to denounce the inequalities and the harmful effect that these have on women's lives, requires the collaboration of men, otherwise, progress is impossible or becomes unsustainable.

The difficulty of involving men in the defense of women's rights and equality lies in the characteristics of the hegemonic model of masculinity and the multiple benefits that it implies for men, principally in authority and power. Any involvement of men in favor of the struggle for greater co-responsibility between men and women at both productive level and reproductive level, whether in intimate or social relationships, or in paternity, sexuality, violence or the economy, needs prior, in-depth reflection, an individual and collective reflection on the pernicious effects of the male model, for both women and men. A real change in roles and behaviors should be framed on the basis of a personal and internal conviction of the need for these changes. It is not sufficient to implement and fall in line with recommendations and instructions, these have to be created first. Only in this way can stable foundations be laid for the construction of a more just and egalitarian society, and the beneficial coexistence of men and women


Women cannot hear what men don’t say

The absence of men in the battle for equality

“Gender inequality holds back the growth of individuals, the development of countries and the evolution of societies, to the disadvantage of both women and men.

The facts of gender inequality–the restrictions placed on women's choices, opportunities and participation–have direct and often malign consequences for women's health and education, and for their social and economic participation. Yet until recent years, these restrictions have been considered either unimportant or non-existent, either accepted or ignored. The reality of women's lives has been invisible to men. This invisibility persists at all levels, from the family to the nation. Though they share the same space, women and men live in different worlds.”

The above-mentioned paragraph begins the UNFPA State of World Population 2000 report entitled, "Lives Together, Worlds Apart". It would be difficult to find a title which better sums up the reality of gender relationships.

Introducing the gender perspective implies recognition that inequalities do indeed exist between men and women just because they are men and women. For many centuries, women have struggled to achieve equality and denounced the patriarchal system that subordinates them, and they have succeeded in introducing a series of social changes that have questioned the traditionally defined roles of men and women. However, and despite the fact that the radical change in the role allotted to women has also had a direct effect on the questioning of the traditional role of men, men are still the "great inactive element " in the construction of this new social order.

The progress of women, as we have said, has helped shatter the traditional division of gender roles, which granted to men the productive space and to women the reproductive space. But this progress will soon reach an unsustainable point if we cannot start counting on men's participation. It is becoming increasingly necessary to analyze male models if we are to gain the active involvement of men in the social changes in other words, if we are to achieve masculine co-responsibility,

Male Reflection

Nevertheless, the most interesting experience seen in an international organization occurred in the beginning in 1999 in the internal organizational section of UNDP. In a workshop under the auspices of UNDP Gender and Development program in New York, a group of men working in the organization drafted a document demanding male participation in the gender issue. This group qualified itself as

“We, a group of men within UNDP, feel a strong concern about existing gender inequalities, and would like to promote collaboration between men and women to reduce current gender disparities in the workplace and in the world”. Their appeal was directed to their male colleagues, and they asked “for the sensitivity to renounce dominant stereotypes and a willingness to reevaluate our own attitudes towards gender equality issues and the advancement of women”.

Up till then, almost all the United Nations agencies, including UNDP, had introduced gender issues on their agendas and in their programs, but the peculiarity of this action was that for the very first time the appeal was made by and for men.

This UNDP workshop identified several obstacles to male participation in gender issues, with some interesting results:

· Men’s fear of facing up to the gender agenda.

· The progress made by women could be considered as a threat

· The gender themes are identified as women's themes.

· Insecurity among the men who decide to advocate gender equality. Men hesitate to adopt this commitment for fear of being misunderstood or ridiculed.

· The men recruited by UNDP had no academic or professional experience of gender matters. Those most frequently hired to deal with gender issues are women whatever their experience

· Any significant dialogue on gender equality and on men's and women's role could be separated from the common agenda

· The organizational culture of UNDP is the product of an accumulation of legacies that perpetuate the division between men and women

· This is particularly visible in the differing sensitivity to the sexual harassment issue

· There are no structural incentives for the staff who promote the view that gender issues are an integral part of the effectiveness of UNDP’s substantive operations and human resources

The hegemonic model of masculinity

The evident absence of men from gender issues and the struggle for equality, and the difficulty of involving men, leads us to analyze the model of masculinity. So it is in the way of being a man and of being a woman that we must seek the root of these inequalities. The point is that we men and women are brought up to behave as such. We are socialized to assume a group of attributes, values, functions and behaviors that are supposedly essential to each sex. For men there is a hegemonic way of socializing them which is historically and culturally constructed. This socialization is produced through the family, at school, with friends, at work, via the media, etc… and places men in a clear dominant position and subordinates women. The dividends for men are not only control and power but also economic and material. All we men have been conscious at one time of these clear advantages that we are given and we have occasionally felt the sensation, the pleasure of having been born on the right side. It is a process that we call "the pedagogy of privilege."

The basic characteristics of the model are power and heterosexuality – which is why the model also subordinates other men that do not adapt to it – together with independence, aggressiveness, competitiveness, risk. The "real man" is the center, the strong one, the important one, the powerful one, and the one who is on top. This is a symbolic, ideal model, not a natural one. The proof of this is that man feels constantly obliged to demonstrate his masculinity, in public as well as in private, for example in his sexuality. This constant demonstration can cause what we call "the pressure of masculinity", which is neither more nor less than the pressure of having to project an image that is not naturally ours and which is not sustainable.

This reflection on the masculinity model that comes from men themselves may facilitate the so desired co-responsibility, through a conviction of the unsustainability of the established social order because of the very prejudices created, without overlooking the fact that women are the ones who suffer the most. Men’s participation should start from the full awareness of this unsustainability and not from a mere adapting to the changes promoted by women.. This is why it is necessary to show to men that the system that gives them so many benefits and privileges may turn against them, and that the assumed masculinity may be a risk factor. The harm that the model causes men should be perceived in the same way that their privileges have been perceived. This is the strategy followed by Dr. Benno de Kreijzer of Mexico.

De Kreijzer establishes a typology of the risks of masculinity: for women and children, for other men and for oneself. The risk for women and children is seen in domestic violence, in selective abortions, in making women objects in the universe of sexual masculinity (which responds symbolically to a script that is characterized by potency, phallicism, the obsession with orgasms, coito-centrism, or the multiplicity of couples,) in the lack of male participation in contraception and in a limited participation in bringing up children. The risk for other men is developed within the framework of power relationships between men, in that need to prove themselves superior to others, and it passes from mockery, to pressure and to violence. It is related to violent deaths, lesions, accidents, and homicides. Lastly, the risk for oneself, the sum of all the foregoing, united to that cultural need to prove oneself constantly, to take risks and behave recklessly, perceived as synonyms of real virility. To this risk for one’s own health should be added another characteristic of the hegemonic model, the lack of self-care, the difficulty of asking for help, denying that we are sick. For many, there exists a clear relationship between masculinity as a risk factor and the difference in life expectancy between men and women. After all is said and done, paraphrasing Pierre Bourdieu, man is his own victim.

Full male co-responsibility is not simply the outcome of a change of behaviors. It also requires a change of attitudes and thinking which is much more difficult to achieve. That is why it is important to work on the masculine hegemonic model. Hence the importance and the need to create space for reflection and expression on all that normally we are not permitted to express, where men learn to express and share their concerns. It is primarily a question of gaining a better understanding of the resistances and problems that women face in this unequal system, of understanding the mechanisms that trigger macho violence, among other issues, and of joining in the demands of many women of the world.

Co-responsibility should occur in private and in public life. In private life, and as far as health, sexual and reproductive rights are specifically concerned, it should include, inter alia, a) the promotion of responsible paternity, through a better care and closer relationships with the children and a sharing of house chores, b) a greater male involvement in family planning, which ranges from a greater investment in masculine methods to the elimination of resistance to using these methods that is sometimes come across, and c) a firm decision to eliminate gender violence, through education and the change of cultural rules.

Concrete Experiences: Groups of Men

For several years now there have been various experiences by NGOs and male groups working on the basis of individual and joint reflection. There are several examples in Latin America. In Nicaragua several years ago, the Foundation "Meeting Places for the Transformation of Daily Life" began a cycle of workshops of young men dealing with identity, sexuality and domestic violence. In these workshops, it is argued that the so-called "masculine essence" does not exist. Rather, you learn to be a man as you learn to be a woman, and the masculine apprenticeship in our societies includes learning to be competitive, violent, macho and homophobic. The participants try to learn together how not to fall into sterile feelings of guilt and attitudes of self-hatred or self-disapproval for being part of the dominant gender. They are taught to firmly confront in themselves, in their personal relationships and socially and politically, the cycle of violence in which they live.

The Mexican NGO Health and Gender, whose work centers upon mental, sexual and reproductive health, has also developed a strategy of workshops, basically for men, using "the time tunnel" technique, in which the participants relive the story of their lives, with special attention to the gender roles in which they were educated. They work on the control of emotions, violence in couples, and the image of their parents. 

The experience of this work teaches us a series of lessons:

- To see masculinity as a risk factor is an important and non-threatening starting point for discussion on themes related to sexuality, health and intimate relationships.

- To talk about gender and masculinity is not possible at an institutional level until the participants have first reflected on their own values and their realities as related to gender.

- Parallel to the involvement of individual men, it is important to reach out to institutions so as to access a more varied group of men. This is used as a multiplier strategy to have the workshops repeated in other organizations and institutions.

- Women can have an important role in encouraging men to participate in the gender workshops.

- Gender theme activities should begin with a clear idea of the desired results and indicators to measure their success.

- The activities of receptivity, like radio publicity spots and public education on gender themes, help to create a favorable atmosphere for holding workshops and recruiting participants.

Other NGOs such as CORIAC (Male Group for Egalitarian Relationships, AC.) in Mexico, have had similar experiences in involving men in reproductive health, as has CANTERA, in Nicaragua.

In the association environment, male groups have also been created in the developed countries. There are several examples in the United States (NOMAS – National Organization of Men against Sexism-, Canada, Australia, France, Switzerland, and in Spain too. Their mission is to externalize the changes in favor of co-responsibility in domestic, private and personal life, and to socialize them. The objective is for individual changes to become evident and multiply, with the purpose of making other males participants in this improvement, in this masculine model reconstruction. Thus, they will both receive support in the difficult process of the development of rules and promote a change in society as a whole. And this may take many forms, such as: supporting women in their proposals, avoiding any type of complicity, deactivating the idea that the struggle for equality should be a matter for women alone, as if we men were very far removed from the problem, demanding and promoting policies to stimulate male desires for change.

In Spain, in the past months, the interest and support of the public institutions has been revealed by the organization of various conferences and meetings on masculinity and co-responsibility. One example is the conference that took place in San Sebastian in June 2001, organized by the Basque Institute for Women (Emakunde). Another example is the conference that will soon take place in Jerez de la Frontera, organized by the City Council, which has a Department of Health and Gender which is very active in masculinity themes ( These spontaneous and isolated initiatives develop group dynamics and open the way for debate and reflection on the meaning of masculinity at the dawn of the 21st century.

Following the example of the networks of women created by the feminist movement, these groups of men should network, and share their experiences to strengthen each other. This would reinforce their visibility to society, since the challenge is not only in private life, but in public life too since the introduction of the gender perspective implies a desire to develop a process to transform our society and our models. Examples of networks are the Network of Masculinity, which is more academic and hosted by the Latin American Institute of Social Sciences in Santiago de Chile (FLACSO), the vanished Men's Network for Change (MNC), of Canada, who declared themselves to be “a network for pro-feminist, gay affirmative, anti-racist, male positive men”, or the North American Pro-feminist (  ), who state that they are different from other male movements for the "reassertion of natural instincts".

Nevertheless, there are certain considerations to take into account regarding work with men on behalf of a new masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity today is going through a crisis that is often reflected in the individual in psychological problems, feelings of failure, emptiness, impotency, the absence of a model. Collectively, in the same way that the fore-mentioned pro-feminist groups of men favorable to change and to equality appeared on the scene, so have anti-co-responsibility men's groups sprung up with their extreme defense of the patriarchal system, in association with other radical misogynist, racist, xenophobic, and homophobic groups. The new element of a hegemonic masculinity model in crisis and the insecurity caused by the questioning of masculinity for many men who 30 years ago knew very well what they were or should be, is causing a destabilization of which women and the feminist movement are being directly accused for having subverted stable rules. In an environment of masculinity crisis, it may be extremely easy to go from one response level to another, so it is important not to start accusing and blaming men, since the effect may be counterproductive, and the reaction may be violent.

The resolutions and recommendations of the different conferences that took place in the 1990s, which forged the new paradigm of sustainable human development (Childhood, New York 1990; Environment, Rio 1992; Human Rights, Vienna 1993, Population and Development, Cairo 1994; Social Development, Copenhagen 1995, Woman, Beijing 1995; Habitat, Istanbul 1996; Food, Rome 1996), make extensive reference to women's autonomy, understood as the amplification of their options and their decision-making power in all aspects of their lives. Thus, the level of women's freedom to make decisions about their lives, both reproductive and productive, public as well as private, is extremely important in the process of social change towards sustainable human development. It is also evident that, in many parts of the world, women suffer a great inequality of opportunities, a higher risk level, and a life subject to other people's circumstances and decisions. Several women, especially in the poorest countries, still have scarce life options other than marriage and maternity, decided in many cases for motives independent of their own will.


Cairo and Beijing: Two Steps Ahead

Two of these conferences, Cairo and Beijing, touched more specifically upon men's role and the need for a greater co-responsibility. For example, section C of Chapter IV on Gender Equality, Equity and Empowerment of Women in the Action Program of the International Conference on Population and Development (El Cairo, 1994) is strictly dedicated to “Male Responsibilities and Participation”. The document stipulates that “Men play a key role in bringing about gender equality since, in most societies, men exercise preponderant power in nearly every sphere of life, ranging from personal decisions regarding the size of families to the policy and program decisions taken at all levels of Government”.

This section, besides establishing the objective to promote “gender equality in all spheres of life including family and community life, and to encourage and enable men to take responsibility for their sexual and reproductive behavior and their social and family roles”, recommends a series of measures for its implementation.


4.26. The equal participation of women and men in all areas of family and household responsibilities, including family planning, child-rearing and housework, should be promoted and encouraged by Governments. This should be pursued by means of information, education, communication, employment legislation and by fostering an economically enabling environment, such as family leave for men and women so that they may have more choice regarding the balance of their domestic and public responsibilities.

4.27. Special efforts should be made to emphasize men's shared responsibility and promote their active involvement in responsible parenthood, sexual and reproductive behavior, including family planning; prenatal, maternal and child health; prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV; prevention of

unwanted and high-risk pregnancies; shared control and contribution to family income, children's education, health and nutrition; and recognition and promotion of the equal value of children of both sexes. Male responsibilities in family life must be included in the education of children from the earliest ages. Special emphasis should be placed on the prevention of violence against women and children.

4.28. Governments should take steps to ensure that children receive appropriate financial support from their parents by, among other measures, enforcing child- support laws. Governments should consider changes in law and policy to ensure men's responsibility to and financial support for their children and families. Such laws and policies should also encourage maintenance or reconstitution of the family unit. The safety of women in abusive relationships should be protected.

4.29. National and community leaders should promote the full involvement of men in family life and the full integration of women in community life. Parents and schools should ensure that attitudes that are respectful of women and girls as equals are instilled in boys from the earliest possible age, along with an understanding of their shared responsibilities in all aspects of a safe, secure and harmonious family life. Relevant programs to reach boys before they become sexually active are urgently needed.

In other chapters of the Cairo Action Program, such as Chapter 7 on Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Health, measures are also established such as the drawing up of:

7.8. Innovative programs must be developed to make information, counseling and services for reproductive health accessible to adolescents and adult men. Such programs must both educate and enable men to share more equally in family planning and in domestic and child-rearing responsibilities and to accept the major responsibility for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. Programs must reach men in their workplaces, at home and where they gather for recreation. Boys and adolescents, with the support and guidance of their parents, and in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, should also be reached through schools, youth organizations and wherever they congregate. Voluntary and appropriate male methods for contraception, as well as for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, should be promoted and made accessible with adequate information and counseling.

The five-year evaluation of progress and obstacles in the implementation of this Action Program, Cairo+5 process, which took place in 1999, insisted once again that:

50. All leaders at all levels, as well as parents and educators, should promote positive male role models that facilitate boys to become gender-sensitive adults and enable men to support, promote and respect women’s sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, recognizing the inherent dignity of all human beings. Men should take responsibility for their own reproductive and sexual behavior and health. Research should be undertaken on men’s sexuality, their masculinity and their reproductive behavior.

52. (…) g) Promote men’s understanding of their roles and responsibilities with regard to respecting the human rights of women; protecting women’s health, including supporting their partners’ access to sexual and reproductive health services; preventing unwanted pregnancy; reducing maternal mortality and morbidity; reducing transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS; sharing household and child-rearing responsibilities; and promoting the elimination of harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation, and sexual and other gender-based violence, ensuring that girls and women are free from coercion and violence;

The Platform for Action approved in the Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing 1995, also made explicit reference to male responsibility in gender equality. In the Beijing Declaration, the preamble to the Platform for Action, the participating governments affirmed “we are determined to: Encourage men to participate fully in all actions towards equality”. Throughout the entire chapter IV, where strategic objectives and measures are outlined in order to take, a special reference is made to the need to promote the male participation, concretely in the health sections.

107 c) Encourage men to share equally in child care and household work and to provide their share of financial support for their families, even if they do not live with them

107 h) Develop policies that reduce the disproportionate and increasing burden on women who have multiple roles within the family and the community by providing them with adequate support and programs from health and social services

108 e) Develop gender-sensitive multi-sectoral programs and strategies to end social subordination of women and girls and to ensure their social and economic empowerment and equality; facilitate promotion of programs to educate and enable men to assume their responsibilities to prevent HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases

108 k) Give full attention to the promotion of mutually respectful and equitable gender relations and, in particular, to meeting the educational and service needs of adolescents to enable them to deal in a positive and responsible way with their sexuality

108 l) Design specific programs for men of all ages and male adolescents, recognizing the parental roles referred to in paragraph 107 (e) above, aimed at providing complete and accurate information on safe and responsible sexual and reproductive behavior, including voluntary, appropriate and effective male methods for the prevention of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases through, inter alia, abstinence and condom use.

In the section on the prevention and elimination of violence against women:

124. k) Adopt all appropriate measures, especially in the field of education, to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, and to eliminate prejudices, customary practices and all other practices based on the idea of the inferiority or superiority of either of the sexes and on stereotyped roles for men and women.

In the section on women and the economy, where various method are laid down “To promote harmonization of work and family responsibilities for women and men”; or in “Women in power and decision-making”, which recognizes that:

185. Inequality in the public arena can often start with discriminatory attitudes and practices and unequal power relations between women and men within the family, as defined in paragraph 29 above. The unequal division of labor and responsibilities within households based on unequal power relations also limits women's potential to find the time and develop the skills required for participation in decision-making in wider public forums. A more equal sharing of those responsibilities between women and men not only provides a

better quality of life for women and their daughters but also enhances their opportunities to shape and design public policy, practice and expenditure so that their interests may be recognized and addressed. Non-formal networks and patterns of decision-making at the local community level that reflect a dominant male ethos restrict women's ability to participate equally in political, economic and social life.

and recommends measures such as:

190. i) Recognize that shared work and parental responsibilities between women and men promote women's increased participation in public life, and take appropriate measures to achieve this, including measures to reconcile family and professional life;

192. e) Develop communications strategies to promote public debate on the new roles of men and women in society, and in the family as defined in paragraph 29 above;

The 2000 evaluation of Beijing +5, emphasized that “men must involve themselves and take joint responsibility with women for the promotion of gender equality”, and that “women share common concerns that can only be addressed by working together and in partnership with men towards the common goal of gender equality around the world.”

UNESCO too, in the framework of its “Women and a Culture of Peace” program, devoted forums and space to debate on the role of men and violence. An example worth noting is the international meeting of experts it organized in Oslo on September 1997, under the title of "Male Roles and Masculinity in the Perspective of a Culture of Peace”. This meeting recognized that “Whilst women's roles and status have been broadly debated over the last decades, men's roles and positions have hardly been discussed”, and that “The process of redefinition of female and male identities has been asymmetric: while for women it has progressed, for men it is just beginning”.

The meeting, through an analysis of the existing literature and the theoretical knowledge, explored the development of new types of masculinity, more egalitarian and with a partnership-orientated focus contrary to the traditional and stereotyped expectations of masculinity that may lead to an improper acceptance of the use of authority, domination, control, force, aggressiveness and violence. The meeting also touched upon the painful consequences of the rigid and stereotyped definitions of masculinity and femininity, roles of domination and submission. Practical strategies were explored to reduce male violence, and consider the possibilities of raising children in a manner that highlights the qualities needed to construct a culture of peace.


The benefits of a new model

An analysis of the work that the different men's groups and NGOs have been carrying out on masculinity and the search for new methods to favor full co-responsibility, highlights three clearly strategic elements: paternity, violence and sexuality. These are undoubtedly three openings onto the complex analysis of masculinity, and through which it is possible to advance in the creation of new models of being a man and, consequently, to achieve full co-responsibility by conviction.

The experience of these male groups is that their participants have progressed toward a greater capacity of self criticism, of accepting criticism from others, especially from women, a greater patience and empathy with others, a better acceptance of homosexuality, a better interpersonal communication ability, a higher level of self-esteem, and a greater capacity to demonstrate affection, tenderness and feelings. In short, it is a question of learning the important lessons of life hindered by the model, of constructing new models of coexistence and reducing the risk factors that the model implies, as well as getting rid of the cumbersome armor of our obligatory social role that many of us men are wearing.

It is very important to have international recommendations on the need to work for masculine co-responsibility, and that a serious public debate be held on the masculine roles. However, we should realize that that is not enough. If we want to work for a real change, for sound foundations, and construct a more just and egalitarian society, then we should realize that the battle for equality is not won just in the written texts and the instructions, the real battle should take place in our mind, deep within.

Enric Royo

Metges del Món-Catalunya

(Translated by Tanya Perez C. Marchelli for Secrétariat International at Médecins du Monde – Paris, France  )


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