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Good practice pointers

There is a growing body of research evidence, including from this project, providing insights into how to develop impactful work with men and boys to shift gendered social norms. The following are some of the key principles which can contribute to effective interventions in this area:

Strategies for shifting norms

  • Wherever possible, interventions should be ongoing and in-depth rather than one-off or tokenistic.
  • To have a lasting impact, interventions should be multifaceted and holistic rather than only focusing on one possible level of change. This could include addressing ways in which gender norms are reproduced at different levels and in different parts of an organisation, and involving people from across the organisation in creating change (for example, within a school context this is sometimes referred to as a ‘whole-school’ approach).
  • Gender-sensitive and gender-transformative approaches are best placed to address issues connected to gender norms. This means both recognising and seeking to change the impacts of gendered expectations and inequalities as part of interventions.
  • Where appropriate, influential figures and peers can be used to help instigate and model norm change.

Engaging effectively

  • Adopt a positive approach to men and boys rather than one which is condemnatory or ‘lecturing’ towards them.
  • At the same time, challenge men and boys to take their share of responsibility for creating change in social norms, rather than patronising or holding low expectations of them.
  • Provide safe, supportive and inclusive spaces for discussion, to help men and boys feel able to open up and talk honestly about difficult subjects which are highly personal.
  • Whilst recognising the influence of wider society in cultivating unequal gender relations and norms, encourage men to take responsibility and be accountable for their own behaviour.
  • Ensure women’s voices and experiences are heard within work with men and boys. For example, it may be helpful to work in all-male groups sometimes, but it is still important to find ways for men and boys to listen to women’s voices within such contexts.
  • Be prepared for how you will deal with problematic behaviours or attitudes you may encounter when working with men and boys, such as sexist or homophobic comments, and avoid colluding in such behaviour.

Differences among men and boys

  • It is possible to engage with any men and boys about gender norms, however it is important to do so in appropriate and relatable ways which are relevant to the group you are working with.
  • Take into account the differences among men and boys when working with them, especially in terms of power and inequalities based on, for example, social class, ‘race’ and ethnicity, sexuality, age and dis/ability.
  • Work with boys from a young age in order to enable the best chance of creating long-term changes in social norms.
  • Avoid separating yourself from other men and boys, as if you are in some way more enlightened than them or not capable of making mistakes too.

Approaching work with men and boys

  • Working on gendered social norms is challenging, complex and long-term, but it is important to recognise that change is possible when engaging with men and boys, that norms can and do shift in positive directions, and that everyone has the potential to change.
  • Collaborate with and be accountable to women and women and girls’ organisations, to ensure that gender inequalities are not being replicated in work with men and boys.
  • Help to build a movement – this work cannot be done only by relying on individual personalities or by working in silos, there needs to be a groundswell of efforts to create change.