By: Mariko Rasmussen, Communications Specialist at Women Deliver
Gender can influence men’s and women’s health in profound ways; social expectations of what men and women should and should not do can directly affect attitudes and behaviors related to a wide variety of health issues. Often, it is men who decide the frequency and timing of sexual activity and whether or not to use contraceptives, sometimes through coercion or violence. Gender-based violence can contribute to the spread of HIV and sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), and lead to poor reproductive health outcomes for women. And because of women’s low status in many societies, maternal health services are not prioritized. Empowering women is a critical step to turning this around, but efforts cannot end there: men must also be actively engaged as partners in change.
There has been a growing determination to engage men in efforts to better women’s health, economic and social status and increasing evidence that this effort is working. One organization, the Brazilian non-governmental organization Promundo, seeks to promote gender equality and end violence against women, children and youth in Brazil and around the world. Founded in 1997, Promundo prioritizes the production, dissemination, and scale-up of social interventions that promote gender equality and health and are grounded in formative research and rigorous impact evaluations. Many of these interventions include the development of educational curricula for working with youth, health professionals, care-givers, and others, and are available for download on their website.
One of Promundo’s intervention activities includes Program H (H stands for Homens and Hombres, the words for men in Portuguese and Spanish). Program H works at both the individual and the community level, engaging young men through group educational activities and changing community norms with community campaigns. It includes an evaluation model to assess the program’s impact, and young men have reported a number of positive changes after participating, including higher rates of condom use and improved relationships with friends and sexual partners to greater acceptance of domestic work as men’s responsibility and lower rates of sexual harassment and violence against women. Developed in Latin America and the Caribbean, Program H has since been adapted in Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and in the United States and Canada.
One video developed by Promundo, Once Upon a Boy, is featured below. The no-words cartoon video tells the story of a boy growing up, and touches on experiences such as peer pressure, a first sexual relationship, and becoming a father. It is designed with the understanding that socialization is a complex process and is used to engage young men, educators, and health professionals in critical reflections about rigid models of masculinities and how they influence young men’s attitudes and behaviors.
Promundo is part of a global alliance of over 300 NGOs and UN agencies called MenEngage that seeks to engage men and boys to achieve gender equality. The network pursues partnership and collaboration between organizations at the regional, national and international levels for the development of programs and advocacy strategies that promote themes related to men and masculinity and the promotion of gender equality.
Promundo also takes part in a global campaign called MenCare for engaged fatherhood, in collaboration with Sonke Gender Justice and the MenEngage Alliance. MenCare promotes men’s involvement as equitable, responsive and non-violent fathers and caregivers by providing support materials, messages, policy recommendations and research to encourage local MenEngage partners, NGOs, women’s rights organizations, governments and UN partners to implement campaign activities in their settings.
Men’s involvement in maternal and child health is an important aspect of achieving gender equality. Promundo is just one organization of many committed to involving men and boys in gender equality and violence prevention that can have real impacts on the health of girls and women in the future.