Learning positive masculinity: A guide for men everywhere

Jun 14, 2023
By Sophia Papastavrou, Gender Technical Specialist

The work of being a supportive and loving father and husband can be a long journey—as fathers all over the world can attest.

It’s a journey best done in community with other men. Sadly, many men often don’t have access to resources or community to tackle the challenges of caring for a family.

This is where the MenCare manual comes in.

As a partner in the global MenCare campaign, coordinated by Equimondo, World Vision has been adapting the MenCare approach in diverse country contexts worldwide. The overall goal of the approach is to promote men’s involvement as equitable, engaged, non-violent fathers, partners, and allies for the eradication of gender-based violence, the achievement of gender-equality, and the promotion of family health and well-being.

Born out of the need for a tool to engage participants in the MenCare approach, the manual was designed to equip men with critical knowledge and skills to help them become more active parents, equitable, non-violent partners, and champions of gender equality in their communities.

As fathers, men benefit from the manual by developing closer and more emotionally connected relationships with their children and stronger bonds with fellow fathers over their shared experience of fatherhood.

How positive masculinity affects communities

This manual gives all men the freedom to question dominant ideas about manhood and/or fatherhood and redefine their own type of masculinity that rejects rigid gender roles, denounces violence, respects women and girls, and shares decision‐making power and control over household resources without succumbing to cultural stereotypes. As fathers, this includes not devaluing or undermining daughters in favour of sons and ensuring that sons are raised to reject narrowly defined ideas about masculinity and to become allies and advocates for gender equality. All of this supports World Vision Canada’s vision of a more equal future for women and girls.

Muslima and Abu sit together in their home, preparing vegetables for cooking.Through a MenCare group in Bangladesh, Abu (right) learned about sharing the responsibility of household decision-making with his wife Muslima, particularly with their agricultural livelihood.

The MenCare training manual was part of the ENRICH program, with the aim to improve the health and nutrition status of mothers, newborns, and children in select regions of Bangladesh, Kenya, Myanmar, and Tanzania. The manual was developed to:
  • challenge strong societal and cultural resistance to male involvement as contributors to family health and well-being;
  • increase men’s accountability and engagement to influence positive decision making;
  • focus on health seeking behaviours and the use of reproductive health services;
  • engage men as allies in advancing gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment.
The gender assessments conducted in each country context showed that poor nutrition and health outcomes discouraged both young and adult men from taking equitable responsibility for domestic and/or childcare work and from engaging in issues related to maternal, newborn and child health. Gender-based violence and harmful socio-cultural practices—including sexual abuse, female genital mutilation, child marriage, alcoholism, intimate partner violence, and gender-discriminatory maternal and child health practices—in the communities were threatening the health and wellbeing of women and girls and boys.

Consequently, constructs of masculinity must be challenged for women and girls to live fully and to see real and lasting improvements in health outcomes. Additionally, men need to be engaged as allies and active participants in this transformational change.

How to use the MenCare manual

The manual sets out to engage men in effective ways to reduce gender inequalities while promoting the health and well-being of women and girls. The manual also calls for the end to all forms of gender- based violence. It creates a platform for fathers to develop closer and more emotionally connected relationships with their children, and the opportunity to create stronger bonds with fellow fathers over their shared experience of fatherhood. Providing all men the freedom to question dominant ideas about manhood and/or fatherhood and redefine their masculinity is created through a safe space within each session of the manual.

Using the manual, MenCare groups will go through 10 sessions. Each session aims to facilitate both interactive and participatory learning through specifically targeted activities and group discussions on topics covering gender equality, pregnancy and birth, sexual and reproductive health and rights, caregiving, violence and alcoholism and shared decision-Making. Whether they are husbands, partners, fathers, brothers, sons, uncles, colleagues, employers, teachers, or peers, participants will learn about the critical role they play as men in advancing women’s health, social and economic rights.

Three men stand beside a big chart paper, with one pointing to a diagram on the page and other men sitting on the floor, looking on.Community is essential in the MenCare approach. Facilitators create a safe and constructive space for men to reflect on and redefine what it means to be men in their communities, like this MenCare group in Myanmar.

It is important to note that prior to using the facilitator’s manual in each community, it is imperative to identify the needs, challenges, and opportunities most relevant to the context to ensure the most pressing issues, tackling the most relevant challenges, and tapping into local opportunities are all addressed.

Gender inequality thrives on unequal power dynamics between women and men, girls and boys, undermining health, and development for all. To achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls to reach their full potential, discriminatory gender norms must be challenged and transformed at all levels - individual, relationships, community, and society. While women and girls have enormous potential as advocates and change agents for their own equality, men and boys also have a crucial role to play as allies and active participants and catalysts for gender-transformative change.

Participants will be engaged in the process of examining, questioning, and transforming the discriminatory gender norms and stereotypes that threaten the health and wellbeing of women and girls. They will also be encouraged to replace outdated and harmful ideas about masculinity with proactive and positive contributions to their families and communities. Men will also gain an appreciation for the importance of supporting one another as men, to adopt flexible, equitable expressions of masculinity and fatherhood, and of holding each other accountable for ending gender-based violence.

Through discussions about the value of being an engaged and equitable partner, participants will become aware of the benefits experienced by all family members when men get more involved in caregiving and domestic work, and of the opportunities that open when collaborative, gender-equitable decision making is practiced at the household level. In addition to helping men become advocates for gender equality, the training will also help men understand the negative impact of rigid ideas of masculinity on their own physical and mental health.

By equipping men with the tools and knowledge to cultivate positive masculinity in their communities, they will have the freedom to show emotion, seek help when needed, and enjoy close, loving, and peaceful relationships with their children, partners and other loved ones.

Find the MenCare Facilitators Manual Here

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