Challenging harmful masculinities and engaging men and boys in sexual and reproductive health

More research is needed to address the impact of harmful masculinities on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), according to a new priority research agenda drawing on a global survey of researchers that was published today in The Lancet Global Health.

Harmful gender norms affect boys and men in many ways, for example by increasing risky behaviours such as substance use or unprotected sex, or by causing negative attitudes and practices towards women. However, research on engaging men and boys has often neglected how to address harmful masculinities in ways that promote gender equality in many SRHR programmes.

“Promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights requires challenging harmful and unequal gender power relations by working with men alongside women,” said co-author Dr Maria Lohan, UNESCO Chair in Masculinities and Gender Equality at Queen’s University Belfast.

For the new priority research agenda, the team first established several overarching themes to address this evidence gap:

  • understanding masculinities, equality, and SRHR;
  • improving programmes to advance gender equality by addressing masculinities in the context of SRHR;
  • improving the ways we research gender norms and SRHR; and
  • improving equitable and rights-based services and policies at scale.

The researchers asked experts from academic institutions and civil society across 60 countries to identify and rank the most important questions, across these themes, regarding how to address harmful gender norms related to masculinities in SRHR programmes.

Results showed that some of the top-ranked questions focused on how gender norms impact on SRHR; how to engage men and boys in development, delivery and evaluation of SRHR programmes/services; how to implement gender-transformative approaches to engaging men and boys, including through comprehensive sexuality education; and what are the diverse SRHR needs of men and boys.

The research agenda comes on the 30th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action (ICPD PoA), which was a landmark for SRHR and that for the first time flagged the importance of working with men and boys. It builds on three decades of work done by researchers, activists and practitioners on engaging men and boys and lays out priorities to advance gender equality in SRH for the future. This shared research agenda should guide the kind of evidence-building that is necessary for gender equality in SRH, and it is important that funding is directed accordingly, according to co-author Dr Avni Amin, a Unit Head at WHO’s Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research.

“The exercise leading to this research agenda was extensive and included stakeholders from different contexts and practices, it strived to reflect their concerns” said co-author Magaly Marques, Senior Advisor for MenEngage Alliance. “The result is a shared agenda to guide future investments in work on masculinities in SRHR that truly aligns with the field’s gender equality goals.”

This study was conducted by the UN’s Special Programme on Human Reproduction (HRP), the World Health Organization (WHO), along with Queen’s University Belfast, MenEngage Global Alliance, University of Western Cape and Stellenbosch University.

/Public Release. View in full here.