Engaging Men and Boys

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Expert's Take

Engaging Men and Boys as a Prevention Strategy

By Gary Parker, Promundo

A growing field of engaging men and boys in gender-based and sexual violence prevention has emerged in the past 20 years. Gender norms and gender power imbalances mean that girls and women are more frequently the victims of sexual violence, even as studies have confirmed that boys are also victims and that boys’ experiences of sexual violence may be even less likely to be reported in some settings than sexual violence against girls. 


Research also affirms that the majority of perpetrators of sexual violence against girls and boys are men or boys.

As work with men and boys in violence prevention expands, there are some key considerations:


  • Programs engaging men and boys for sexual violence prevention should be accountable to women’s rights principles, and dialogue with key women’s rights partners that have long worked to advocate and build the evidence base on ending violence against women. 
  • Programs engaging men and boys in violence prevention should be gender transformative; that is, the program should not simply enjoin men and boys to intervene when they see violence or teach boys that “violence is wrong” but to question norms related to masculinity.
  • Some programs in sexual violence prevention with men and boys include only men and boys; others include women and girls together with men and boys. Evidence finds that both approaches can work when they include a clear focus on rights, when they carry out appropriate formative research on salient norms, and when they keep a focus on questioning power.
  • Social norms change with men and boys related to sexual violence should not reinforce negative or inequitable manhood. For example, saying that “real men don’t buy sex” can inadvertently reinforce the idea that there is such a thing as a “real man,” a social norm that can also, for example, promote homophobia.
  • Programs engaging men and boys in prevention should recognize their own victimization. This in no way excuses any man’s use of violence but rather confirms that one of the largest drivers of men’s use of sexual violence against women and girls (and against other men and boys) is men’s own childhood experiences of being a survivor of sexual violence. Psychosocial programs and group education that acknowledge men’s potential survivorship of sexual violence can be important components of breaking the cycle of violence and of effective healing work with survivors and accountability processes for perpetrators.
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From Understanding to Action: A Q&A with Gary Barker

In the spirit of scaling solutions and gathering the best, evidence-based knowledge on preventing sexual violence against children, Together for Girls asked Dr. Barker to expand on a few key topics. Read the interview below: 

You mentioned that engaging men and boys in gender-based and sexual violence prevention has been an evolving field for the last 20 years. What growth and successes have you seen over the years, and what do you hope to accomplish in the next 20 years?


First, there is more evidence of what works and more emphasis on evidence-based approaches. We know that not approaches, even those well-intended, work in terms of reducing boys’ and men’s use of sexual violence. I think local programs – school-based, university-based, workplace-based – are using these results and moving toward approaches based in this evidence. I think the next big challenge is scaling up or scaling in – that is taking the evidence-based approaches and making them work in large ways, with whole-school and whole-workplace and whole-society approaches. This doesn’t just mean multiplying the scale of a single intervention. It means comprehensive, multi-pronged, context-specific approaches that build on the evidence base.


You also mention that programs engaging men and boys in violence prevention should be gender transformative. In Promundo’s work, how does your team see gender transformative work play out in real communities, groups and families


By gender-transformative we mean that gender inequitable norms, power inequalities, and access to services and resources are changed, not just that men and boys are invited to prevention education. We know that all forms of gender-based violence, including sexual violence, are rooted in patriarchal norms and power. When this approach works, we see staff in the health sector questioning their own ideas about manhood, we see policymakers and implementers adding discussions about men as allies into their survivor services, and we see in men and women, and boys and girls, saying that change happens in men’s behaviors not just related to violence, but in terms of men and boys doing more caregiving and being more supportive on reproductive and sexual health decisions, for example.

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For those of us in the field, it makes total sense to include men – who are most commonly the perpetrators of violence – in this work. How do you see our global community respond to this work?


I think there is growing agreement that we must include men and boys in violence prevention – precisely because they are most often the perpetrators, and because men’s experiences of violence as boys is often a driver of men’s use of violence. The question is how to include men and boys, how to do it so it’s effective, accountable, feminist in orientation while also seeing men and boys not only as perpetrators but also as allies in ending violence.


How does your work in engaging men and boys inform the greater field of violence against children?


VAC is also gendered – there are different patterns of fathers, mothers, other male or female caregivers often use violence differently against children. Sometimes VAC co-occurs with VAW, sometimes they happen independently. Sometimes men’s caregiving can be a support for less VAC. Sometimes men’s lack of participation as caregivers creates stresses for mothers that may contribute to VAC. Children’s experiences of violence – in the home, school and their communities – are gendered and often influence later perpetration by boys and victimization from IPV for women. The point is – it’s all connected an all gendered and understanding these complex linkages contributes to better gendered responses.

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Why is the development of What Works to Prevent Sexual Violence Against Children important right now, at this moment in our history? What are your hopes for this resource?  


The world is paying attention to violence, harassment and sexual assault in unprecedented ways – from MeToo to Times Up and hundreds of local movements. The timing is right to affirm that we know what works and to push governments and all stakeholders do their part to put the evidence into action. My hope is that policymakers, and staff at schools, after-school programs, ECD staff and funders will read it, use it and move from awareness to urgent action.

Learn More:

This spotlight was pulled from “What Works to Prevent Sexual Violence Against Children,” a systematic review of proven solutions and best practices to prevent and respond to sexual violence against children and youth (SVAC). The review was completed in collaboration with a group of experts and allied organizations and highlights evidence-based solutions from around the world. Read the whole set of #SVSolutions Program Spotlights here.

Meet Gary Barker

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  • Author: Dr. Gary Barker, Founder and CEO, Promundo, Brazil, and Washington, DC
  • Organization: Promundo
  • Location: Global

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