Global Resources

Working with men and boys to end violence against women and girls

Author: Afeefa Abdur-Rahman (ed)
Publisher: United States Agency for International Development
Publication Date: Feb 2015

It is now widely accepted that strategies to end violence against women and girls (VAWG) must include engagement with men and boys to be effective. This has been repeatedly shown through studies, particular from the health sector. Ending VAWG, however, requires a multi-sector, coordinated response, which in itself requires a greater understanding about the challenges and lessons surrounding male engagement in ending VAWG outside of health contexts. To this end, USAID have produced this review of evidence from interventions and strategies aimed at engaging men and boys, across a number of sectors.

The report reviews published and grey literature on male engagement strategies for ending VAWG in five sectors from across the Global South, including: economic growth, trade, and agriculture; education; governance, law enforcement and justice systems; conflict, post-conflict and humanitarian assistance; and social development. A broad definition of violence was used, although violence against men and boys, while potentially gender-based, was not included in the terms of reference. Programmes included in this study for review were selected based on evaluated impact, documentation of lessons learned, and/or the innovation in programme design. The major limitation of this review is that it only considered English language literature.

Among the most common challenges identified was that of engaging men in challenging gender inequalities that underpin male violence. Although the “positive masculinities” framework has proven useful, managing the tension between appealing to men’s interests in adopting positive masculinities, while at the same time addressing women’s interests in their own empowerment, remains a significant challenge. Additionally, the use of role models has also seen some success, yet there are limitations to individualised processes in that important collective action may be neglected. The mobilisation of collective action requires an understanding of men’s differing experiences of privilege and subordination, but few programmes explicitly address ways in which race, class, sexuality, and ethnicity affect men’s attitudes and practices toward masculinity and violence.

Key lessons that emerge from the research include:

  • The importance of synchronising work on positive masculinities and women’s empowerment to reduce tension.

  • Grounding interventions in a social ecological framework can help highlight the different levels of change at which interventions must work, i.e. individual, community, institutional, etc.

  • Men should be offered a compelling male gender identity to reject violence and adopt more gender equitable masculinities.

  • Fostering supportive male peer groups, highlighting men’s positive contributions to care work, and building skills have all been shown to be important strategies for sustaining men’s adoption of positive masculinities.

A number of knowledge gaps are identified by the literature review, including: a need for more research on the link between masculinity, sexuality, and sexual violence; development in using psychosocial interventions to address men’s experiences of trauma, and the link to violence; increased multisectoral programming, especially relating to men’s roles in responding to the rights and needs of survivors of violence; and the need for longitudinal evaluations of previous interventions to assess the effects of programming on sustaining positive masculinities.

Finally, a number of recommendation are suggested, split by the level of change:


  • At the individual level, male engagement needs t start young, adapt to local contexts, emphasise men’s roles in care work, and address men’s multiple interest in change.

  • At the community level, it is important to nurture supportive male peer groups, engage men in collective action, and address broader social influences shaping norms of masculinity through the use of media campaigns and culturally focused work.

  • At the institutional level, there is a need to strengthen programme capacity, to use institutional hierarchies to facilitate reform, and strengthen oversight and accountability mechanisms

  • At the societal level, male engagement work should prioritise policy advocacy, hold duty bearers to account, and link male engagement programming on VAWG with broader movements for gender equality and social justice.