Hesperian Health Guides

Men working for gender equality

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HealthWiki > Health Actions for Women > Chapter 3: Gender and Health > Men working for gender equality

Women have been and will be the driving force towards gender equality. It is hard for some men to accept the idea of sharing power and privileges equally with women. Many men resist any change in gender roles that gives women more control over their own lives. But more and more men accept and support changes that raise women’s status, because they understand how gender equality improves the quality of life for all.

Men are often inspired to work for gender equality, because they see it as an important part of other struggles for justice, such as control over land and resources, access to education and health care, and freedom from violence.

Activities such as A day in the life and Gender boxes can help men understand and sympathize with the hardships women suffer because of gender inequality. Men may already be thinking about ways that changing gender expectations could benefit both men and women.

Young men unite against machismo in Ecuador

In Ecuador, South America, acting "macho" — sexually dominant and aggressive — at home and in public is the expected way for a man to show his masculinity. But attitudes about that kind of dominant masculinity, called machismo, are changing, thanks to a growing generation of young men, including a group organized as the Cascos Rosa (Pink Helmets). Wearing pink T-shirts, these young men are working to promote new ways of behaving that call for an end to violence
against women, gender inequality, and sexual exploitation.

a young man in a Cascas Rosa shirt speaks into a microphone while another watches.
Cascos Rosa hosts a youth radio program that openly and creatively discusses sexuality, gender-based violence, and other topics.

Cascos Rosa was first started in 2010 by a small group of young men who received awareness-raising training from the Ecuadorian chapter of Citizens’ Action for Democracy and Development. They learned about the power men have over women that prevents women from enjoying the rights and freedoms they are entitled to, about violence against women, and about different ways to express masculinity.

Since then, Cascos Rosa has grown and now includes young women. They give talks and present awareness-raising activities in schools, community centers, and places where young people gather, such as music festivals. They understand that change does not happen quickly. They want to get people thinking about possible changes in their personal lives so they can move toward a society based on equality, human rights, and fairness.

Founding member Damián Valencia describes what has happened in his own home since he got involved. "Everything has changed," he says, "especially my father. He never used to do anything, and now he washes the dishes and sometimes does the ironing. This has made my mother happier and calmer because her burden is lighter." Many young people say their families had experiences like that of Damián’s family. Their parents’ relationships improved and there was less violence in their homes— everyone benefited.

HASIK: The gender seminar for men

A group in the Philippines called HASIK (Harnessing Self-reliant Initiatives and Knowledge) developed a 3-day gender awareness seminar for men. In their work, HASIK saw that people (and organizations and communities) were most likely to change when they deeply understood the problems women face from gender inequality, developed strong feelings about the issue, and saw ways to change.

a man speaking.
If you want men to change, you must engage them through their minds, their bodies, and their hearts.

Men do not always see how gender inequality harms everyone, and especially how much women suffer because of it. HASIK knew success depended on helping men see this suffering and the role men play in it, without shaming them for their lack of awareness.

To help men feel comfortable at first, the facilitators allow them to joke, talk, and share their opinions about women without being corrected or interrupted. They also discuss men’s and women’s roles (see Gender boxes). Because the men do not feel judged or criticized, they are fairly open and relaxed.

Next, the men watch a live dramatic presentation, designed to help them empathize with women’s hardships. "Hearing Women’s Voices, Feeling Women’s Pain" combines songs about women’s lives and relationships with pictures, videos, personal stories, and facts, such as how many women are treated unfairly at work, experience violence, and are hurt in other ways by their low status. Parts of the presentation invite men to consider how their own actions and attitudes might play a part in the problem. Many of the participants are deeply upset or shocked by this new information, and the discussion becomes more serious.

HASIK facilitators noticed that at this point many men see the problems women face more deeply, but some still do not fully understand or care about gender inequality. To push the group’s understanding in a fun way, HASIK created a competitive team activity. Each team tries to best explain the causes of gender inequality. To score, men must use convincing arguments to persuade each other. In this process, more men are convinced. For a similar activity, see Taking a Stand.

With more awareness, compassion, and concern about the women in their lives, men then consider how things could be different. Using an activity called Image Theater, men look at everyday moments of unfairness or despair for women and work on how to transform them. This helps men think about how to make changes in their own lives, relationships, and community. Instructions for Image Theater are below.

The seminar ends with a ritual. In a quiet space, the men spend 15 minutes thinking about how the gender training will affect them personally. Then each man speaks about a way he commits to respect fairness in his relationships with 1 or 2 women in his family or community. After 3 days of listening, arguing, and various creative activities asking them to think in new ways, this reflection often leads to personal transformation that turns men into dedicated activists in the struggle to improve the lives, health, and rights of women in their communities.

ActivityImage theater

In this activity, there are 3 different groups: statues, sculptors, and audience. The statues take still poses, showing roles or actions that were discussed in the free association activity. Statues show how they feel with body language. The sculptors may move the statues, but cannot speak to them. The audience analyzes what is going on and suggests how sculptors can change the scene. Props and costumes are useful.

  1. Select several people to be the sculptors or statues. Help them choose a scene to show, with people acting out common gender roles the group has already discussed, such as a wife cooking and watching children as her husband drinks a beer, or 2 young women being harassed by older men on the street, or a man yelling at his girlfriend with his hand raised to strike her.
    a man and woman facing each other on a stage, with an audience member providing feedback.
    Put the man’s arm down.
  2. Ask the audience what they see in the scenes, and then allow the sculptors to change the bodies of the people to reflect a more positive outcome or interaction. Encourage the audience to provide more feedback by asking them what changed and what could be further improved, and what this would look like. The audience may then step in and improve the scene even more.
  3. At the end of these 2 rounds, discuss the theater. How did the scene change? Was there anything acted out that reminded them of their own lives? If so, did the activity change how they think about their own experience? What could a man do to change his actions if he was in a similar situation as that scene?