The Role of Men and Boys in Achieving Gender Equality: Summary of the Report of the Expert Group Meeting of DAW

Monday, July 26 2010

The United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) organized, in cooperation with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), an Expert Group Meeting on "the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality" which took place in Brasilia, Brazil from 21 to 24 October 2003.


The shift from a focus on women to the perspective of gender relations created the opportunity to give increased attention to men and boys. Over the years a stronger focus has developed on the positive role men and boys can and do play in promoting women’s empowerment in the home, the community, the labour market and the workplace.

There is an increasing recognition that a focus on the role of men and boys in the achievement of gender equality will not only benefit women and girls as well as men and boys, but can contribute effectively to the achievement of human rights, the promotion of democracy, poverty eradication, economic justice and other development goals. In particular it has been emphasized that attention to men and boys can make a major contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS; indeed without the active involvement of men and boys it will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve the international goals on HIV/AIDS.

The expert group meeting considered socialization and the education process and the role of men and boys in relation to the workplace and the economy, sexuality, health and HIV/AIDS, domestic work and work/life balance, and gender based violence. The experts adopted recommendations addressed to Governments, international organizations, including the United Nations, the private sector, including employers, trade unions, civil society, religious organizations, non-governmental organizations, sport groups, armed forces and the police, research institutes, community agencies, and the media.1


The rationale for involving men and boys in gender equality is manifold and will continue to develop and expand as goals are realized and different gender and social arrangements emerge around the world. Men and boys must be brought into the framework of strategy, policy and micro politics of gender equality programmes.

In the formal economy, there is enormous pressure on men to spend longer hours in the workplace. In some occupational groups this results in a life practically consumed by "work". The negative side to a poor "work/family life balance" is that there is little time to share with partners and children, and it is difficult to be a good father in any
way except as economic provider.

Conventional divisions between men’s and women’s roles and expectations also narrow men’s cultural experience. In education, for instance, boys and men predominate as students in "technical" courses and natural sciences, but are underrepresented in humanities, creative arts, social sciences and human services. Power oriented masculinities are often associated with ethnocentrism, rejection of other cultures and the maintenance of inflexible and rigid barriers to change.

Research on violence, both personal and collective, has shown a persisting connection of violence to men as a group, and specifically to dominance-oriented masculinities in hierarchical gender systems. Achieving gender equality will not totally end violence, which has many roots. But moving towards gender equality is an important step towards reducing violence. Men, who are victims of many forms of personal and institutional violence, primarily at the hands of other men, have a great deal to gain from a more peaceful non-violent world.


The experts proposed that the following set of principles should govern policies and programmes addressing the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality.

  1. Emphasize the active stake that men and boys have in gender equality, that is, the gains to men and boys.
  2. Develop integrated gender policies rather than separate and parallel policies for women and men.
  3. Recognize that working with men and boys toward the goal of gender equality faces short-term constraints and risks, but offers the potential for significant progress toward achieving gender equality in the long run.
  4. Work with men as allies to women in achieving gender equality through collaboration with, and accountability to, women’s organizations and feminist movements.
  5. Ensure that funding for gender equality work with men and boys is not at the expense of existing or future funding for empowerment work with women and girls.
  6. Define specific roles for men and boys in developing and implementing policies and programmes for gender equality.
  7. Work with the men in positions of greatest power and influence (as local and national leaders, and policy makers) to ensure their commitment to and action on promoting gender equality goals.
  8. Recognize the well-being of men and boys as a legitimate aim of gender equality measures.
  9. Recognize the diversity of men’s situation and assess the specific situations, interests, identities and privileges of different groups of men and boys and address their specific needs.
  10. Acknowledge that while men are responsible for gender norms that damage the lives of women and men they also suffer under these norms in different ways.
  11. Build on existing resistance to and questioning of gender norms that perpetuate gender inequality by some men and boys.
  12.  Develop policies, programmes, practices and processes that both hold men accountable for their roles in structures of male power and at the same time assist men in learning about and healing from the harmful effects of gender norms in their own lives.
  13. Based on men’s multiple roles in relation to violence (including as perpetrators, survivors, witnesses and bystanders), mobilize men to end the interpersonal and institutional violence that sustains and results from gender inequality.
  14. Recognize sexuality as a fundamental dimension of human relations in which gender inequality is often expressed and enforced. Respond to the complexity and diversity of meanings, desires, practices and identities in men’s sexual lives. Address the connections between misogyny and homophobia in the construction of harmful norms of male and female sexuality.
  15. Work with the capacities and potential of men and boys to be actively involved in achieving gender equality. Positive aspects of traditional male roles can be drawn upon, such as strength, courage and leadership.
  16. Ground gender equality work with men and boys in the context of local cultures and traditions, as well as community practices and structures, that are supportive of equal relationships between women and men.
  17. Ensure that research on issues related to men and boys and the goal of gender equality include participatory or community-controlled research, with mechanisms to develop the capacities of communities to design and conduct their own research.
  18. Connect gender equality measures involving men and boys with a general framework of human rights and social justice. Within this framework, use shared experiences of multiple forms of oppression to promote solidarity between women and men for social justice and gender equality.

The full report can be downloaded at:

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