Young Women May Be Driving Gender Equality in the Middle East and North Africa

Post written by Alexa Hassink, Senior Communications and Advocacy Officer, Promundo

The Middle East and North Africa often makes the news, and not for it’s progressive stance on gender equality. A new 10,000 person study on the state of gender equality in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, and Palestine seeks to look behind the headlines. The study finds – among other trends – that young women are leading the way when it comes to supportive views about equality.

Produced by Promundo and UN Women with local research partners, the International Men and Gender Equality Study in the Middle East and North Africa (IMAGES MENA) is the first study of its kind and size in the Middle East and North Africa. Covering four countries, it takes a big picture view of what men think, and how they act, when it comes to supporting gender equality. This includes asking men questions ranging from if they ever have used violence against a partner, to how they feel about having a female boss.

The study reveals that while the majority of men do have fairly traditional, sexist views about gender equality, at least one quarter of men hold more open and relatively progressive views in supporting women’s economic, social, and political equality. That’s good, but not great news.

Importantly, we also get to look at women’s side of the story. What we find is that young women have less traditional attitudes than the older generation. This may seem intuitive, and it is supported by global data and trends, but it shouldn’t be taken for granted in the MENA region, where, among men in Morocco, Palestine, and Egypt, younger men’s views on gender equality do not differ substantially from those of older men; in some cases, they were even more conservative.

We know that when it comes to men taking on less traditional, sexist attitudes, personal histories, family influence, and life circumstances are among the factors that can help drive us in the right direction. This is in addition to things like having greater wealth, higher education, a mother who had more education, or a father who carried out household chores.

So what impact might progressive women have on men’s support for gender equality?

In two of the countries, men whose wives worked outside the home were more likely to do more of the unpaid care work. Others had come to see their wives as strong and capable after they (the men) had spent time away from home, either migrating for work, or otherwise.

The reality though, is that women do not always have the opportunity or support to take action when it comes to seeking and achieving equality in employment, politics, or at home. Indeed, men frequently dominate or control household decision-making, political and leadership spaces, and the daily lives of women and girls: only about a quarter of women in the region work outside the home. Furthermore, the burden should not fall on women to drive this change – we need everyone to be partners in the process.

In this context, men – as friends, partners, siblings, citizens, and importantly, as fathers – can play a key role in raising and supporting strong, independent young women. Fathers who encourage daughters to take on non-traditional professions or to work outside the home, or who allow their daughters to choose their own husbands, seem to contribute to the emergence of more strong, independent women.

In all four countries, men whose fathers had participated in traditionally feminine household work and caregiving, as well as men who were taught to do this work as children, were far more likely to report contributing in this way within their own marriages. This points to the importance of parents’ positive examples in setting the stage for future generations of both women and men who will support relationships and societies based in equality.

This research helps us to better understand how we can raise progressive girls into women. The challenge ahead is to create a supportive environment where these women can thrive, and where the men in their lives support them to do so.

Download the full report here.

Cover photo credit: Promundo

The Truth About Adolescent Boys

What do we know about boys? A new publication by Promundo and UNFPA highlights the importance of engaging young men in gender equality and in sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Promundo and UNFPA launched a new report today, Adolescent Boys and Young Men: Engaging Them as Supporters of Gender Equality and Health and Understanding their Vulnerabilities, that takes a deeper look at the daily lives of adolescent boys and young men around the world, and how they can join the movement towards improved health and gender equality.

Exploring global research, the report reveals boys’ and young men’s specific risks and realities in relation to health in general, sexual and reproductive health in particular, sexuality, media violence, sexual exploitation, and other vulnerabilities. It analyzes the implications of these risks and realities not only for boys, but also on the lives of women and girls.

Adolescence is a key period where individuals of all gender identities form attitudes, opinions and beliefs – about themselves, about their sexuality, and about their place in the world. It is a period when ideas about equality can become ingrained. The report emphasizes that a holistic approach to advancing gender equality and sexual and reproductive health must include both adolescent girls and boys. It highlights the need to engage adolescent boys and young men as allies to achieve gender equality and as supporters of women’s empowerment, as well as the importance of addressing the specific health and social development needs of boys themselves.

Key Findings:

  • General Health: Harmful definitions of manhood and masculinity increase young men’s needless vulnerability to premature morbidity and mortality. Young men under 25 are three times more likely than young women to die of a traffic-related injury.
  • Sexuality: Many boys, in numerous settings, question traditional sexual “scripts” and report longing for intimate contact and connection more than they do sexual conquest. This may have benefits in the long-run, as men with more gender-equitable attitudes are more likely to report that they are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their sexual relationship with their primary partner.
  • Sexual and Reproductive Health: Gender norms and sexual scripts place pressure on young men to embody unhealthy versions of masculinity. In many countries, a majority of adolescent males aged 15-19 have engaged in risky, non-marital sexual behavior in the past year.
  • Experiences of Sexual Violence: Stereotypical definitions of masculinity that hinder boys’ help-seeking, as well as deep-seated homophobia, make it difficult for boys to speak out against abuse and sexual exploitation. While women and girls experience the majority of sexual violence, some estimates indicate that one in seven boys experiences sexual violence as a child.
  • Education: Studies have found that boys feel that asking for help and doing well in school is a “girl thing”; they may feel pressure to drop out of school to earn an income to support the family, and they lack male role models in the classroom. Boys are more likely to repeat a primary grade than girls in 90 of 113 countries where data is available.
  • Mental Health: Men are often poor mental health help-seekers, and health systems are less likely to invite them or reach out to them. Poor mental health is among the leading causes of the global burden of disease for adolescents aged 10-19.
  • Media: The media – which includes television shows, films, music, and advertisements – reinforces ideas about hyper-masculinity in which men are rewarded for aggression, toughness, and misogyny. In the United States, almost 21 percent of high school students aged 10 to 18 reported having been cyber-bullied in their lifetime.

Building on this data, the report reviews concrete ways to work with adolescent boys and young men on sexual and reproductive health services, comprehensive sexuality education, fatherhood and caregiving, and the elimination of violence against women and girls, as well as how a masculinity lens contributes to understanding youth violence prevention in general.

Some Strategies:

  • Talk About Gender: Programs that address gender or power are five times as likely to be effective in achieving improved sexual and reproductive health outcomes.
  • Redefine Norms: Comprehensive sexuality education and violence prevention programming in schools or communities can be thought of as a space to redefine gender norms and to question other cross-cutting inequalities, such as those based on ethnicity, social class, or sexual orientation.
  • Improve Access to Services: Engage boys in sexual and reproductive health services (e.g., screenings; clinical diagnosis and treatment; and information, education and counseling) as an entry point to question harmful masculinities.
  • Implement Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Comprehensive sexuality education is an essential approach to remaking and reinforcing gender-equitable norms in connection to health.
  • Harness the Power of Media: The media reinforces ideas about hyper-masculinity in which men are rewarded for aggression, toughness, and misogyny – but it can also be used for positive change.

Read more of the report’s findings here, and learn how everyone, including adolescent boys and young men, stand to reap lifelong benefits when they are engaged in a more holistic approach to gender equality and in sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Tell us what you think! Join the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #AboutBoys and following @Promundo_US and @UNFPA.


Originally published on Promundo Global

Convincing “The Other Half” – Men

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, Promundo talked to Nikki van der Gaag about the importance of bringing men on board with feminism. Nikki is the author of Feminism and Men, a Promundo Senior Fellow, and a noted feminist, writer, and communicator.

What do you want everyone to know on International Women’s Day?

That even if sometimes it feels like two steps forward and one step back, the tide is beginning to turn. Women and men need to stand alongside each other and celebrate the many positive changes that have been achieved – at the same time as being realistic about what still needs to be done.

What makes you passionate, personally, about reaching gender equality, and what is your professional “Pledge for Parity”?

I have been a feminist since my late teens, and have worked on gender and women’s rights for more than 25 years. I first heard about Promundo in the early 2000s when working on men and HIV at the Panos Institute. It started me thinking about the role men might and should have in promoting gender equality: could we as feminists go on seeing men as the problem rather than as part of the solution? Then in my travels to write about and work with women and girls, I began to notice the men, and in particular the boys, who wanted to know what was going on and why they were not involved. I began to talk to them, and in 2010, I proposed to Plan International that I write a State of the World’s Girls report on boys and gender equality. The Advisory Editorial Board had representatives from Promundo, White Ribbon, and similar organizations. I have been writing about men alongside my work on women and girls ever since. My pledge? To continue to work for a broader and less binary definition of gender equality so that we can truly move forward together to change the world.

What is the biggest challenge we face in reaching gender equality, and what are some of the key strategies to achieve this goal?

I think we can’t separate the work on men and gender equality and gender justice from the wider context of development. We need to continue to listen to what women and men at the local level have to say, and work with them in small ways as well as big ones.

It remains a big challenge to convince more than a relatively small number of men about the need to become a part of the movement for gender equality. So we also need to work with men in powerful positions, to reinforce the feminist idea that the personal is political. The influence of fundamentalist religions on gender is another growing problem that also needs to be tackled, as is the continuing epidemic of violence against women and girls.

Tell us a little bit about your role as a Promundo Senior Fellow.

This is still very new for me, and in many ways is simply an extension of what I have been doing for a number of years: promoting the ideas and work of Promundo, Sonke Gender Justice, and a range of other key organizations working on men and gender equality in my writing, in talks, and at workshops.

How can working with men and boys help to celebrate and advance the social, economic, cultural, and political achievement of women?

While the work that women have done in the past decades needs to continue, and spaces and resources reserved for this work, I am convinced that we need to engage men if we want to achieve a fairer world.

Nikki-van-der-GaagNikki van der Gaag is a Senior Fellow at Promundo. She is an independent consultant who works on gender in development, with a particular focus on girls and on men and gender equality. She co-authored the first ever State of the World’s Fathers report in 2015. Her latest book is Feminism and Men (Zed Press, 2014). She has also authored The No-Nonsense Guide to Women’s Rights (New Internationalist/Verso, 2008), and six State of the World’s Girls reports for Plan International, including one on boys and gender equality. She is a member of the International Advisory Board for Young Lives, an Oxford University study on child poverty; director of Just Change UK; and an advisory trustee of the Great Men Initiative and New Internationalist magazine.

This interview was originally published on

Cover Photo Credit: CIFOR, Flickr Creative Commons

Sexuality, Gender Equality, and the Arab Region

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, Promundo talked to Shereen El Feki about sexuality and gender in the Arab region. Shereen is the author of Sex and the Citadel, a Promundo Senior Fellow, and an acclaimed broadcaster, writer, and academic.

What do you want everyone to know on International Women’s Day?

We must understand the lived realities of men and boys as individuals in order to move toward equality for women and girls, and to effect change. Women face tremendous challenges around the world, but it’s important to keep in mind that, in many cases, authoritarian and patriarchal structures also put men, most of whom are not at the top of the power pyramid, under pressure – thereby undermining their relationships with women.

What makes you passionate, personally, about reaching gender equality, and what is your professional “Pledge for Parity”?

I come from an unusual background in that my father is Egyptian, and my father’s upbringing was very conservative. Yet my mother is British, and my parents raised me in a very liberal and open climate. Growing up in Canada, I was never told, “You can’t do something because you’re a girl or a woman.” It wasn’t until I began researching my book, Sex and the Citadel, and started meeting women across the Arab region of different educational levels, social classes, and geographies, that I began to appreciate the constraints that women in many parts of the world confront in trying to exercise their fundamental human rights. I now realize how fortunate I was not to have encountered these sorts of stereotypes, prejudices, and obstacles that many women – as well as gay men and trans individuals – encounter.

Of course, gender equality is part and parcel of sexuality, which is the focus of my work: including in the promotion of sexual rights for all individuals irrespective of their sexual orientation, or gender identity. My book not only lays out the sexual conundrums and challenges faced by communities across the Arab region, but also offers solutions, highlighting individuals who are pushing back against the taboos and trying to find ways forward. Most recently, since the attacks in Cologne, Germany on New Year’s Eve, there has been tremendous speculation and comment about gender equality and sexuality in the Arab region – much of it dangerously prejudiced and ill-informed. One of the most gratifying outcomes of my book is the chance it has given me to present an alternative view of realities on the ground.

As a Senior Fellow with Promundo, I am also a co-principal investigator of the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) in the Middle East and North Africa, which will make a major contribution, by informing opinion and policy on issues related to gender equality and sexuality in the Arab region. Clearly, a better understanding of what is happening on the ground – amongst men, amongst women, and between the sexes – is very important. I’m delighted to be able to have a chance to work with both researchers and activists on the ground, and raise awareness through public debate in order to shift stereotypes.

What is the biggest challenge we face in reaching gender equality, and what are some of the key strategies to achieve this goal?

In the Arab region, we have real issues with gendered laws. These include laws which restrict women’s economic power; restrict their mobility; prevent them from passing citizenship to their husbands or children; require them, in some cases, to have a male guardian supervise their affairs. The list goes on and on. So the law, and legal reform, is clearly a challenge.

But, changing law is not enough. Progressive laws on gender equality are necessary but not sufficient if you don’t also address community and family attitudes and actions. In many cases, in the Arab region, one sees progressive laws, which actually have very little impact in everyday life because of family controls and constraints on women.

This is why IMAGES, which looks at men’s attitudes and behaviors, is also significant. The dynamic between men and women is very complex. So, it is important to start talking to men and start trying to understand how they feel about decision-making capacities within the family, and also to work with women to get them to rethink their own patriarchal norms.

Tell us a little bit about your role as a Promundo Senior Fellow.

As I mentioned, my primary engagement with Promundo is as co-principal investigator of IMAGES in the Middle East and North Africa. While researching my book – Sex and the Citadel – that looks at both men’s and women’s sexuality in the Arab region, it became very clear to me that we actually know relatively little about men in this part of the world.

It was in Kuala Lumpur that I first met Promundo’s International Director Gary Barker at the 2013 Women Deliver conference. Gary and I started talking about the possibility of bringing IMAGES to the Middle East and North Africa. To cut a long story short, three years later, we are heading into the field with the very first IMAGES study in four countries in the region: Morocco, Egypt, the Palestinian Territories, and Lebanon.

How can working with men and boys help to celebrate and advance the social, economic, cultural, and political achievement of women?

To me, it’s obvious: it takes two to tango. Of course you want to engage men and boys; it’s not easy, as I’m learning from working with Promundo, but it’s absolutely vital. I find it interesting that people think that being a man is some sort of patriarchal picnic. My observation – at least in the Arab context – is that it’s actually really tough being a man, particularly being a young man, at a time when the classic milestones of manhood – getting a job, getting married, getting laid, forming a family – are increasingly difficult to reach due to shifting economic conditions and a conservative social and religious climate.

I think the time is ripe to start engaging with young men and boys, helping them recognize the importance of gender equality not just through the lens of how they feel about women, but also how they feel about their lives as men. I think one of the best ways to do this is to start talking to men and boys, and not to a priori see them as part of the problem, but actually approach them as part of the solution.

I can see this already in some parts of the Arab region. In Egypt, for example, we have some very innovative programs trying to combat sexual harassment. Of course, most sexual harassment is committed by young men, but there are also new non-governmental organizations that have sprung up – like HarrassMap, for instance – that are actively engaging young men, working alongside young women, to stamp out sexual harassment. This work is starting slowly in the Arab region, but I think that it’s a very welcome development and I’m pleased to be a part of an initiative that will hopefully give that movement additional momentum.

shereen-el-feki-300x300Shereen El Feki is a Senior Fellow at Promundo. She is an author-academic-activist who works on sexual rights in the Arab, and broader Islamic, world. Along with Promundo and local partners, she is leading the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES), a multi-country study of men and gender equality, in the Middle East and North African region. Shereen is the author of the award-winning Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World. She is also the former Vice-Chair of the UN’s Global Commission on HIV and the Law, and is a Professor of Global Practice at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. Shereen has a PhD from the University of Cambridge and a BS from the University of Toronto.

This interview was originally published on

Cover Photo Credit: Kim Eun Yeul/World Bank, Flickr Creative Commons

In DRC, Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict and at Home

By Nina Ford, Communications Associate, Promundo.

Women and girls in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have experienced devastating effects of conflict, particularly when it comes to sexual violence.

Research from the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) in eastern DRC confirms that 22% of women were raped as part of the conflict, and almost 30% were forced to witness sexual violence. Frequently, the violence does not stop there: men often reject their spouses who have been raped or respond with further violence.

Kyalu and her husband Abby, who live in eastern DRC, know this to be true. After Kyalu experienced sexual violence, perpetrated by rebels in 2008, Abby began to use violence against her at home. Through group therapy, Abby started to take responsibility for his violence, and for its prevention – overcoming the trauma of the conflict to begin living peace together.

This is the story they wanted to tell:

During the war in 2008, Kyalu and Abby traveled to the Congolese village of Walikale in search of work in the coltan mines. Rebels stopped and detained the couple. They raped Kyalu before releasing her, and they forced Abby to do hard labor for three months before he was able to escape. Kyalu gave birth to a baby boy as a result of the rape.

“Finding out what they did to my wife was unbearable. I felt powerless to do anything. I sent her away to live with her parents.”

Unable to cope with feelings of rage, helplessness, and shame, Abby rejected Kyalu, who spent the next three years living with her parents. When friends and family finally convinced Abby to allow Kyalu to return, her homecoming was met with violence.

Unfortunately, Kyalu and Abby’s story is not unique.

In eastern DRC, while over 20% of women were raped during the conflict, about 65% have experienced violence – including sexual violence – from a husband or male partner.

There has been global attention around rape as a weapon of war in DRC. However, less attention has been paid to the violence women experience outside of conflict, as well as war’s long-lasting psychological impacts – including its effects on women’s experiences of violence at home.

Conflict-related trauma is not the only driver of intimate partner violence; indeed, many men and women in Promundo’s IMAGES study were found to have troubling attitudes around violence and gender equality more broadly: 65% of men and 78% of women, for example, agreed that a woman should tolerate violence to keep the family together. Additionally, almost a third of men agree that rights for women mean that men lose out.

Based on this research, which found a strong link between men’s own experiences of trauma and their use of violence against partners, Promundo developed Living Peace in 2012.

While direct health and counseling services for survivors of sexual violence are imperative, Living Peace, a group therapy approach, supplements these services. It provides psychosocial support, and a space to question violence-supportive attitudes and behaviors, for men and their partners, allowing them to develop positive, nonviolent coping mechanisms to deal with trauma.

Photo Credit: Promundo
Photo Credit: Promundo

Over the course of about 15 group meetings, participants work to restore healthy relationships free of violence. They build a collective sense of accountability for violence and take on responsibility for preventing it.

In the Living Peace groups, Abby listened to the stories of other men who shared common experiences. After the sixth workshop, Abby began to change. He started coming home early, talking and listening to Kyalu, and caring for her child as one of his own.

“When he started caring for my other son, I couldn’t believe it at first. Was I dreaming?” Kyalu said. “He changed, so I chose to forgive him.”

Abby participated in Living Peace in 2013. Now, in 2015, Promundo is scaling up the initiative in DRC’s North and South Kivu provinces with Institut Supérieur du Lac (ISL), Benenfance, and HEAL Africa. The initiative will reach over 300,000 individuals in DRC through group therapy, community activism and training of police and military to rebuild men’s peaceful, non-violent identities and relationships.

Watch Living Peace: The Story of Abby and Kyalu, produced by Promundo with GoodFight Media. The film was launched at the Sexual Violence Research Initiative Forum in South Africa.

Learn more about Promundo here.

Men Change When We Change the World Around Them

What works to engage men in achieving gender equality? This question has gained ground – and attention – in recent years, but do we know the answer?

Globally, ensuring that women reach parity in political positions, receive equal pay, and live lives free from violence has often been approached by instituting quotas, kick-starting economic empowerment programs, and working with survivors. What do these approaches have in common? Although much needed, they often put the onus of achieving equality back on the very individuals who may lack the position to gain ground.

How can we fully attain gender equality if we only call on half of the population?

When Men Change tells the story of the other half. The film follows four men who, whether by learning the power of equality, the strength in non-violence, or the joy of hands-on fatherhood, have each embraced change.

What do we need for this gender equality revolution to occur? What’s clear is that for both women and men, while grassroots change is powerful, by itself it will not be enough to correct widespread, global inequalities, such as women earning 24% less than men and doing 2.5 times more of the unpaid care work.

We need to:

1. Reach out early to boys with comprehensive sexuality education.

Women are responsible for approximately three-quarters of the world’s contraceptive use. We need to prepare men from an early age to take responsibility for family planning – and to educate men on consent, shared decision-making, and negotiation within relationships.

2. Welcome men to health services.

Men can be powerful allies and partners in maternal, newborn, and child health, supporting their partners to get the care that they need. However, health systems – which can sometimes be unsupportive or unprepared – often set barriers to men’s full participation.

3. Engage men in parent training.

Men are equally as wired for caregiving as women are, and for domestic work as well. But rigid, traditional gender norms often label men as “helpers” or “babysitters.” Getting men involved in hands-on caregiving and household tasks, like doing the laundry, holding the baby, and changing diapers can help to redistribute the burden of care.

4. Offer parental leave.

Although maternity leave policies are essential, offering them without non-transferable paid leave for fathers may inadvertently reinforce women’s role as the primary caregiver, perpetuating inequality at home and in the workplace.

5. Hold men accountable for violence.

Violence is not an acceptable form of conflict resolution – in public, or within the context of intimate relationships. One part of changing this norm – which leads to about one in three women experiencing violence in their lifetimes – is holding perpetrators accountable for their violence. In addition to preventing violence in the first place and offering support for those experiencing violence, this means mandating counseling and taking appropriate legal action for those who have used it.

6. Inspire men’s activism for change.

Women’s rights groups have been advocating for equality for many years, and men can be a valuable part of the movement. Whether advocating for equal pay, an end to violence, justice for rape survivors, or for safe abortion care, men’s voices can help strengthen the call for change.

When Men Change, produced by Promundo, illustrates what interventions have proven to be effective when engaging men and boys in advancing gender equality and preventing gender-based violence, from the health sector to the workplace.

Learn more about Promundo.

This blog was authored by Alexa Hassink, Communications Officer and Program Associate, Promundo.