In the three decades since the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the topic of men’s allyship for gender equality has grown in prominence in global efforts to address gender inequality. Over that time, governments and civil society organisations across the globe have developed programs working with men and boys to prevent and address gender-based violence and build men’s support for gender equality. While robust evaluation of these programs is sparse, there are some emerging lessons about what strategies and approaches are effective in changing men’s attitudes and behaviours.
In the Pacific, work on addressing gender inequality has been a key concern of Pacific governments, civil society and development organisations, particularly given high rates of gender-based violence in many countries, low levels of women’s representation in politics, and other gender inequalities. Organisations working on these issues have developed principles for engaging with men and promising practices are beginning to emerge. However, there is still very little practical guidance on how those wanting to work with men can do so in ways that are most effective in bringing about lasting change in men’s attitudes and behaviour.
This report brings together insights from both Pacific and global efforts to engage with men. It was developed with a view to informing how the Australia Awards Women Leading and Influencing (WLI) program (https://wliprogram.org/) engages men in its program activities. It is based on a review of academic and grey literature, interviews with individuals and organisations whose work includes engaging with men to address gender-based violence and gender equality in the Pacific and WLI participants and alumni.
The key findings of the report are that men’s support for women’s leadership is critical. Because men often hold more power, change requires them to make space for women to lead. Given this, programs working on gender equality and women’s empowerment need to be more intentional about engaging with men. Male advocates for women’s leadership can provide important role models for other men, particularly when they are people who have influence and authority. While some literature cautions against reinforcing gender stereotypes that ‘men only listen to men’, Pacific practitioners have used this strategy effectively to overcome resistance to discussions of gender equality. Western concepts and language such as gender and feminism can alienate men or provoke resistance. Gender equality needs to be communicated in a way that resonates with Pacific men (and women). Framing gender equality as being about men and women working together, for example, is in line with Pacific values around relationships and cooperation. Finally, positive cultural and religious norms in many Pacific cultures can be harnessed in support of gender equality. This includes the emphasis on respect and avenues for women’s voices to be heard at the community level an