Working with men, and the diffusion of innovations…

Equal Community Foundation is a social sector “thinker”; we are also a “doer”. We want to innovate, bring fresh ideas to the social sector, popularise them and ensure the tools and infrastructure is there to scale them. We are an action research organisation, and although we have our heads in the clouds, we have our feet firmly on the ground, present in the communities in which we work.

ECF believes in a world free from violence and discrimination. We believe that in order to achieve this the social sector must work with the perpetrators of discrimination. We believe that tackling the problem of discrimination at it’s root is the only sustainable manner in which to create equal communities. So although we currently focus on engaging adolescent men as a positive force for change, our remit is in fact much broader. It’s about innovation, prevention, demonstration and all discrimination, not just gender based.

And what of working with men? In 2009, ECF conducted over 100 telephone interviews with organisations in Maharashtra, India that seek to empower women. We learned that fewer than 5% of these organisations actively engage men as part of their programmes. Those that did, primarily engaged men in post incident interventsion, i.e. post violent, substance abuse, legal episodes.

So why do so few organisations work with men? Well we believe that there are five main reasons that the social sector is not engaging men:

  1. Working with men is misunderstood: ECF’s work with men is often challenged. We often are asked or told: It is women who suffer…Why would you empower men?…Please, don’t take resources from women’s empowerment?…However, after we have explained our approach, rationale and intent, we are yet to meet an organisation who does not agree that the social sector must engage men to achieve true equality for women.
  2. It’s not in their remit. Many social sector organisations are “women’s empowerment” organisations, that is they work with women, for women.* Their Articles say so, their mission says so, their board and trustees say so and so too their management, standard operating procedures and programmes. It’s just what they do, and it is culturally embedded in their organisational DNA. But, they dont and have not worked with men.
  3. They don’t have appropriately skilled staff:  Although working with men for women’s empowerment and working with women for women’s empowerment has the same goal, it has markedly different approaches, and requires different skills. Typically, male staff are needed to work with men, particularly after adolescence, and male staff traditionally make up the minority of a social NGO’s staff. Male staff who have worked with women for their career, may have excellent skills for working with women, but they are incomplete when it comes to engaging men.
  4. There are no practical programmes that demonstrate impact. Although there are some excellent educational programmes for men (Yaari Dosti and Thathapi), and indeed some great tools for measuring self reported attitude (Gender Equitable Men’s Scale – GEMS) there are few accessible programmes that organisations can pick up and use to engage men, and that demonstrate a tangible link between men’s behaviour change and positive impact for women.

ECF believes that in the future, every organisation that works with women for women’s equality will also work with men. Today, in order to tackle the four issues above, and diffuse the discipline wof working with men into the social sector, Equal Community Foundation is focused on three core activities:

  1. Developing practical programmes that engage men to empower women; Action for Equality is our flagship programme.
  2. Researching the mechanisms and social dynamics of men’s attitudes and behaviour towards women and how we can shift these to empower women; We do this through detailed research and evaluation, find out more here.
  3. Advocating this approach to the social sector and providing training to those organisations that work with women so that they too can work with men. We hold Train the Trainer events. Find out more here.

Read more and stay in touch through our new website.


*ECF believes that this is an essential, and core, approach to achieving gender equality.