Engage with men and boys to challenge violent masculinities to foster normative change

Although men traditionally are associated with power and agency, their lives are also highly shaped by rigid social expectations attributed to masculinity. Traditionally, the role of men have been deeply entrenched with patriarchy and subject to ideas of masculinity that often attach importance to exercising dominance and can, in its worse forms, lead to or even be violent. The gendered experiences of men and boys have not been well understood or taken into account in international development and policy creation. Yet, with a growing interest in challenging and changing these deeply ingrained norms, promoting new forms of masculinites – which emphasize values of respect, dignity and equality for all – can contribute to transforming social norms and attitudes.



There is a growing interesting by electoral practitioners to engage men and boys in efforts to to promote normative change; partly because promoting positive and non-violent masculinites is essential for fostering inclusive and peaceful electoral environments, but also since it is evident men and boys can be active agents of change to transform gender norms. Both in spaces where challenges are discussed, as well as in the implementation of programmes, activities and solutions, should men be centrally engaged. Male parliamentarians and political leaders also have the potential to become strategic allies and powerful advocates for gender equality, contributing to political space for women. Educating the public, and especially young men and women, on the importance of equality and women’s political and social inclusion and the benefits it has for both, can promote positive social change in the long run; transforming social attitudes and mentalities.

Traditional gender norms can also perpetuate harmful stereotypes associated with masculinity, which can end up manifesting in aggressive behaviors that, in turn, can lead to violence. Addressing violent masculinities is therefore imperative in context where entrenched gender norms often intersect with heightened power dynamics. Such violent masculinites, – often characterized by aggression, dominance and assertion of power through violence – , can contribute to a hostile environment that undermines the integrity of electoral processes and threatens the safety and participation of women. Harmful behaviors like those can both perpetuate a culture of fear and intimidation, and enable gender-based discrimination and inequality. By challenging such norms, it is possible to dismantle the structures that, at times, enable violent behaviour and, eventually, foster environments that prioritize respect, inclusivity and essentially non-violence.

These efforts must entail working actively with men and boys to promote alternative models of masculinity that emphasize the value of equality and highlight the positive impact that women’s political participation will have on society and politics for both men and women rather than seeing it as a zero-sum game. Engaging with so-called “gatekeepers” – including male elders, respected community or religious leaders – is also a critical way to foster normative and cultural change which, in turn, can pave the way for a conducive environment for inclusive elections.


A methodology for fostering normative change and positive masculinites 

Below you can find a list of options to be used when developing strategies on how to engage with men and boys to challenge violent masculinities and drive normative change in the context of electoral assistance. Traditionally, many electoral bodies and practitioners have not included in programming documents specific outputs and objectives on foster positive masculinities – this tool therefore aims to serve as a starting point for starting to engage in work on masculinities. Such groups might also be considered “gatekeepers” of social and cultural norms – making such constituencies more relevant to engage with, but, at the same time, pointing to the need of thorough assessment, including on risks, for such engagements. 


Education and awareness:

Education is key for fostering normative change. Educational institutions often serve as key pillar in societies.

    • Develop educational campaigns that highlight the negative impacts of violent masculinities on political and electoral processes.
    • Create awareness programs targeting men and boys to challenge traditional gender norms and promote respect and equality emphasizing the positive impact it will have for both men and women.

Working with institutions:

Public and large institutions (like schools, the health sector and the 

workplace) are critical locations for the transmission of gender norms, and because of their potential to reach millions of individuals, they are also critical locations for work to promote gender equitable relations and transformations.

    • Provide training sessions for men and boys on gender sensitivity and the importance of non-violent communication.
    • Equip them with the skills to address conflict without resorting to aggression.

Community Dialogues:

    • Organize community dialogues that involve men and boys in discussions about gender roles and violence.
    • Facilitate open conversations to challenge stereotypes and promote a more inclusive understanding of masculinity.

Leadership and Role Modeling:

    • Encourage male leaders and role models to speak out against violent behaviors.
    • Highlight positive examples of men who actively support gender equality in political and electoral processes.

Partnerships with men’s groups:

    • Collaborate with existing men’s groups or organizations working on masculinities.
    • Support initiatives that aim to transform harmful gender norms within these groups.

Media campaigns:

    • Utilize media platforms to challenge toxic masculinity.
    • Feature positive stories and role models who exemplify non-violent and respectful behaviors.
    • Challenge gender insensitive reporting and the perpetuation of stereotypes and harmful social norms through the media

Engaging youth:

    • Engage young men and boys through educational programs and youth-led initiatives This is critical as young men can be become key allies in the fight for gender equality at an early age.
    • Foster a sense of responsibility and leadership among the younger generation in promoting gender equality.


    • Advocate for policies that address toxic masculinity and violence prevention within the electoral context.
    • Work towards institutional changes that support a more inclusive and gender-sensitive electoral process.


    • Establish mechanisms to monitor and address instances of violent masculinities during electoral campaigns.
    • Hold individuals accountable for engaging in or promoting violent behaviors.



Any of the activities proposed can be implemented by various entities and organizations, government and non-government – alone or together in collaboration. An Electoral Management Body could serve as a partner in any of the outreach, educational or awareness-raising activities though it will not be its core mandate as the activities are more likely to concern civic education. Close collaboration with civil society or grassroot communities is helpful in these endeavors given closer proximity to communities, both urban and rural, as well other constituencies, including youth, indigenous groups and disadvantaged populations. 



Depending on the activity, men and boys from all ages and different walks of life ranging from community leaders and influencers, government institutions, law enforcement agencies, judicial systems, and educational institutions that play a critical role in shaping policies, practices, and norms related to gender and masculinity, should, preferably, be invited to join. An inclusive approach is essential to capture different perspectives and include various and intersecting needs.







It is difficult to advise upon costings without a clear vision of a particular project, however, notably, main cost to take into consideration would be related to logistics. Additional costs related to resources for community outreach, awareness campaigns, and capacity-building.





The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has developed a training module called “Male Allies for Leadership Equality (MALE)”, with the purpose of sensitizing women and men on the importance of working together to achieve gender equality and supporting broad coalitions to advocate for more inclusive electoral processes. The MALE module was created through focus group discussions in Syria and Nigeria. Since then, IFES has organized MALE workshops in different countries, including Haiti, Ukraine and Libya. 

Read more: 


Non-violent communication centres in Somalia

The Nonviolent Communication Centre in Badoia, Somalia, supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has piloted a methodology of “non-violent communication” to discuss and resolve unconscious bias, perceptions and thoughts against women with guided mediation, using the following three objectives; 

  • To provide male leaders, traditional leaders, and religious leaders with the tools to explore their deeper needs and feelings as a means for inner transformation.
  • To increase the capacity for empathy by giving them the tools to connect with other’s needs and feelings as a catalyst for social change. 
  • To support changes in the alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to deliver more sustainable outcomes by addressing the needs of the parties to the conflict, as well as the context of the disputes.

The process uncovered inner contradictions, mental blind spots and unconscious biases, particularly regarding the way women and minority clans had been treated. Participants acknowledged that the training enabled them to recognize their emotions, particularly anger, and to transform these feelings into something more positive. In addition, many participants reported being better able to communicate and connect with their children or partners. The training increased women’s ability to recognize their feelings and emotions and welcome them, even when negative, as way to identify unmet needs, and also provided them with the tools to communicate while avoiding conflict and strengthened their self-confidence to the point where they became more active in the community, particularly in solving disputes.

Read more: Non-violent communication centres in Badoa, Somalia





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