Gender studies have traditionally focused on women and girls, paying little attention to the attitudes and behaviors of men. But a new book from the World Bank, The Other Half of Gender: Men's Issues in Development, attempts to bring the gender and development debate full circle—from a focus on empowering women to a more comprehensive perspective. At the Wilson Center on October 23, 2006, the book's editors, Ian Bannon and Maria C. Correia, were joined by contributors Gary Barker and Mary Amuyunzu-Nyamongo to address the emerging reality that attaining gender equality will be difficult, if not impossible, without first changing the ways in which masculinity is defined and acted upon.
"Addressing gender issues ultimately will require liberating men and women from the straightjackets of gender norms…. This process has begun for women, but efforts for men are incipient," said Michal Avni, gender adviser in the Office of Population and Reproductive Health and coordinator of the Interagency Gender Working Group at the U.S. Agency for International Development. To date, attempts to incorporate men's issues into the gender discussion have been met with resistance: "There are great concerns that there are limited resources for women, and that if we put [resources] into men's issues, we will be taking money away from the women, who really deserve it," said Maria Correia, program manager of the Multi-Country Demobilization and Reintegration Program in the Africa Region of the World Bank. "I challenge that assumption," she added.
A collection of nine case studies, The Other Half of Gender aims to identify men's issues and uncover the connections between gender and development— specifically in the framework of conflict concerns, such as rising male unemployment, the declining proportion of men in higher education, and boys' underperformance in primary and secondary schools. Gary Barker, chief executive at Instituto Promundo in Brazil and a contributor to the book, asked, "Why should we care about men? Why does masculinity matter?" Men and women's behaviors are not created in a vacuum. Rather, they are molded from cultural mores, traditions, and customs. Looking strictly at women leaves out those factors that contribute to women's marginalization.
Masculinity is defined differently in many parts of the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, being a man means being a provider. This status is contingent upon attaining several prerequisites: gainful employment, land, the bride price (money or goods paid to the bride's family), and often permission from the tribe or community leader—sometimes called the "Big Man." Many men in sub-Saharan Africa cannot meet these requirements. According to Barker, men who cannot achieve a legitimate version of manhood will search for other ways to assert their masculinity: "Men with low equity are more prone to violence and arrest records. There is also an association with delinquency, high rates of violence against women, and low condom use."
Conflict groups have learned to feed off the problems facing men. "Some conflict settings show that there is deliberate targeting of boys and young men…to recruit them into conflict and the use of weapons," Barker said. In Africa, armed groups have used techniques such as the manipulation of traditional rites of passage, as well as threats, coercion, and propaganda, to socialize men and young boys into conflict. Similarly, he noted, young boys in India believe that "a ‘real man' is virile, aggressive, and willing to fight." This version of manhood is being adopted by Hindu and Muslim groups who are "recruiting men and telling them that their lots in life are because of other religious groups," he said.
The Kenyan Case
Mary Amuyunzu-Nyamongo, executive director of the African Institute for Health and Development, studied shifts in gender roles in six districts in Kenya. Following the country's financial collapse in the 1990s, income inequality increased; and in 2004, 57 percent of Kenyans lived below poverty line, while the top 10 percent of the country controlled 48 percent of the wealth. Some men found alternative livelihoods, but many could not find work. Unemployment spiked, yet the expectations of men did not change. "Collapsing livelihoods have led to a crisis of masculinity in rural Kenya," she said.
Men's livelihoods were also threatened by the increasing numbers of women with jobs and higher levels of education. Years of effort to increase girls' education started to pay off, as women found jobs and gained financial independence. "Women's economic independence threatens men's egos and leads to tension," she said. "Marginalized men will look for different ways to assert their authority." The study revealed that educated and financially independent women suffered higher levels of violence: "We concluded that the beatings were a way of putting women in their place," she said.
Balancing the Gender Scale
To create positive impacts on both men and women, gender discussions need to be reframed. If gender remains polarized, women suffer a severe disservice, Amuyunzu-Nyamongo said: "We may be helping women [by focusing on them], but we may not realize that we are increasing sources of vulnerability for them." For example, she noted that women are being asked to go for family planning, but in many communities women must first get permission from their husbands to go to the clinic. "Without addressing the issues of men, we are losing the battle," she said. Reframing the debate has already proven effective in some areas, Barker noted. In Brazil, men with higher education levels are more involved with family. Other studies targeting men's issues helped increase condom use and men's involvement in child care, as well as lower rates of alcohol abuse, heart disease, and depression.
Despite positive returns, gender studies focusing on men remain few and far between, Barker said: "We are largely still looking at individual change. We need to take this beyond individual-focused interventions." The climate may be right to begin focusing on men. National-level policies are changing in certain countries: Scandinavian paternity laws award men paternity leave, and new Latin American policies aim to make gender norms more equitable. Additionally, Barker said, there is action on the individual level: "There are voices of resistance. And they are finding other men and women who also believe in questioning and challenging the salient [gender roles]." In order to scale up interventions and tap into the existing discontent with gender norms, however, the development community must first decide on a course of action. "I hope we don't waste another decade looking at who is most victimized," said Avni. "I hope we can bring together these two notions of gender."
Drafted by Alison Williams.
- Program Manager, Multi-Country Demobilization and Reintegration Program, Africa Region, World Bank
- Manager, Conflict Prevention and Reconstruction Unit, Social Development Department, World Bank
- Executive Director, African Institute for Health and Development
- International Director, Promundo
- Senior Gender Adviser, U.S. Agency for International Development