Engaging boys and men in anti-violence efforts

There is a recognized need to mobilize boys and men as allies against gender violence (which presents in diverse forms, in family violence, intimate partner violence, sexual assault in and outside the family, homophobic and transphobic violence, and diverse forms of gender discrimination through the lifespan) (Barker et al and WHO; 2007).  In the time of #MeToo and the wave of revelations of sexual violence in the media and film worlds in 2017, it is evident that it is crucial to provide space and platforms to engage boys and men to counter the effects of patriarchal socialization that promotes gender violence and carries its traumatic effects across generations.

There are available resources (scroll down for sample toolkits) of community education that can be used to draw in and engage boys and men to challenge patriarchal thinking and norms. These toxic and socially rewarded and reinforced modes of thought and action are known predictors of forms of violence. The ways in which such violence manifests are diverse, including physical acts (rape, battering) and sexist behavior that blames victims of violence and denigrates women and sexual and gender minorities in ways that are at least as pernicious as physical abuse. Efforts to promote awareness and conscientization need to  explore and unpack sexist attitudes that promote gender violence within and beyond the family and encourage the participants to join in activities to imagine and propose strategies to counter harmful attitudes and practices. Through the intervention of trained facilitators, participants can be enabled to identify their responsibilities and roles against gender violence.

Listen to this thoughtful and incisive talk on why why it is a priority to engage boys and men against violence.


What sort of content is needed?

The following are key foci for education and community mobilization to get boys and men (a) to see that gender violence affects everyone (not only women) (b) to recognize that gender violence is a problem created by patriarchal hypermasculinist culture across the world and (c) ready, willing and able to act against gender violence.

Why engage boys and men? It is important to address this point upfront because boys and men often think that if they themselves are not violent, they should not be called on to act and speak. They may also feel defensive and may need resources and supports to understand that they have a crucial role as allies of women (and also of gender and sexual minorities).

Role of socialization. Men are not born violent but may become violent because of beliefs, expectations and roles enacted at home and work about what it means to be male and masculine. Educators should explore models of masculinity that emphasize respect and equality of genders. Themes could include

♦    Who has a role in decision making at home, at work and in the community and what boys and men can do to ensure that all voices are encouraged and heard. Participants could be encouraged to discuss the harmful effects of son preference and daughter discrimination, which are documented problems in several cultures and particularly in South Asia.

♦   How to understand and counter the effects of pop culture and other media that disseminate sexism and violence. Pop culture and pornography desensitize men, promote the objectification of women, and celebrate behaviours of dominance and violence towards women and sexual and gender minorities. Advertisements promote and reflect the unequal role of genders in household activities of cleaning, cooking and care for children being represented as a ‘woman thing’ to do.

♦   How to understand and oppose assault and how to understand and practice consent. This could be a discussion of the myths and realities of sexual assault and help the participants to understand that sexual assault occurs when someone touches any part of another person’s body in a sexual way, even through clothes, without that person’s consent. The discussion could emphasize that sexual assault is an act of aggression and abuse of power and can be committed against someone by a stranger, an acquaintance, a friend, a romantic partner, or a family member. The discussion could also cover the meaning and value of consent and its role in healthy interactions and relationships.

♦   How to promote empathy and the expression of emotion. This is important because males are socialized to not ask for help, to not express or relieve their emotions through words or through tears, leaving them with the bad choices of silence or violence. Participants should be enabled to identify their personal challenges and related solutions to ask for help and express themselves in peaceful and respectful ways.

♦   How to promote intergenerational action against violence. This could discuss how role models in boys’ lives could work with boys to orient them to respect women, be allies, ensure that women have the space and opportunity to speak and make decisions. Role models include (but are not restricted to) fathers, uncles, grandfathers, teachers and coaches (the last are known to play a strong role in so-called hypermasculine ‘jock culture’ and should be enrolled to effectively combat sexism on and off the sports field).

♦   Engagement in the promotion of sexual and reproductive health. This means getting men to own responsibility and action in (a) promoting means of prevention, treatment, care and support for sexually transmitted diseases (e.g. HIV, sexually transmissible and blood-borne forms of Hepatitis (B and C), Human Papillomavirus); (b) fatherhood, i.e., encouraging men to participate more actively in the care and support of their children; (c) promotion of maternal, newborn and child health, i.e. engaging men in reducing maternal morbidity and mortality and in the improvement of birth outcomes and child health and well-being.

How to get involved as ally. Participants in engagement efforts can be oriented about anti-violence efforts that can support female colleagues, friends and relatives who suffer violence. Participants should be encouraged to retain and share this information with those in need. They should also be trained on how to act and support when a colleague, friend or relative discloses an experience of assault or violence. Boys and men should be drawn in as volunteers in anti-violence projects, programs and events.


Barker, G., Ricardo, C., Nascimento, M., & World Health Organization. (2007). Engaging men and boys in changing gender-based inequity in health: Evidence from programme interventions. Link.

Carlson, J., Casey, E., Edleson, J. L., Tolman, R. M., Walsh, T. B., & Kimball, E. (2015). Strategies to engage men and boys in violence prevention: A global organizational perspective. Violence against women, 21(11), 1406-1425. Link.

Canadian Council of Muslim Women, White Ribbon (2016) Engaging Men and Boys to End Violence in the Family Toolkit. Link.

Learning Network,. Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children (2013) Engaging Men & Boys to End Violence Against Women: An Annotated Bibliography of Online Resources. Learning. Network Brief (8). Link.

Men’s Nonviolence Project of the Texas Council on Family Violence (N.d.) Guide to Engaging Men and Boys in Preventing Violence Against Women & Girls. Link.

Liverespect. Coaching Healthy and Respectful Manhood. Toolkit  and curriculum accessible on free sign-up.

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