Special of the month: Gender and Development: Men Are Important

Valeriya Melnichuk, Graduate of the University of Cambridge Development Studies Program.

Decolonization in the mid-twentieth century raised concerns of backwardness and development of the newly independent states. Development – a rather vague term – was defined by the liberal paradigm of growth. To develop countries needed to sustain economic growth based on their comparative advantage. The predominant liberal agenda had little to offer with regards to women’s rights and opportunities. Women became visible as a group only in specific limited contexts: they were identified almost solely as mothers and wives. For example, development strategies that focused on women were mostly related to population control (Rai 2002, p 51); women’s education and health needs were addressed within the framework of reproduction issues (Rai 2002, p 51-52); and policies for women were restricted to social welfare concerns: nutritional education and home economics (Razavi and Miller 1995, p 3). With regards to other issues, such as political empowerment and economic welfare, women were put together with the rest of the ‘people of the Third world’ (Rai 2002, p 52). Liberal feminists, however, challenged the theories of trickle-down economic development and argued that women and men were impacted differently by modernization (Razavi and Miller 1995, p 2). The central argument of the liberal feminists was the idea that women are disadvantaged because their roles are stereotyped by men and internalized by women and the way to liberate women is to break these stereotypes. Proposed by liberal feminism solutions included giving girls better training, introducing anti-discrimination legislation and equal opportunity programmes and freeing labour markets (Connell 1987, p 34).

Building on the liberal feminist contributions, Women and Development (WID) approach was articulated in the 1970s and “became a starting point for serious feminist engagements with development as discourse and as practice” (Rai 2002, p 59). WID concentrated on access and argued for inclusion of women in the existing development process (Rai 2002, p 72). It focused on women’s productive roles and integration into the formal economy as a way to improve their status (Razavi and Miller 1995, p 3), which would result, it suggested, in more efficient and more effective development (Rai 2002, p 72). WID’s exclusive focus on women failed to incorporate men and to shake the patriarchal structures. These and other criticisms of the WID approach were voiced by the 1980s.

A new theoretical framework, Gender and Development (GAD), was offered. It gave primacy to “socially constructed, endorsed and maintained relations between women and men, with special focus on the subordination of women” (Rai 2002, p 72), problematized unequal power relations, and proposed the aim of “equitable development with both men and women as full participants in decision-making” (Rai 2002, p 72). Therefore, a major shift from analyzing the role and needs of women to analyzing gender relations and including both men and women occurred. Although, this shift has been made in theoretical discussions of women, gender and development, practical interventions by development agencies and NGOs were largely associated with programmes established by women for women (Chant and Gutmann 2002, p 269) and ignored the role of men (Engle 1997, p 31). There appears to be consensus among development theorists and practitioners that men have to be included. Otherwise we end up with a limited theoretical concept of gender, which is used interchangeably with women and fails to capture women’s experiences accurately because it does not sufficiently describe and analyze gender relations. Furthermore, omitting of men from practice results in interventions which fail to address women’s immediate needs and undermine long-term strategic goals of liberation and social change. Such a one-sided approach fails to liberate men, whose experiences are also unarguably gendered, from oppressive structures.

Excluding Men from Development Practice Prevents Liberation of Women

Omitting men from development projects renders the projects ineffective. Interventions that are aimed at satisfying immediate less contentious needs of women as defined by the current liberal agenda – incorporating women into formal economy, addressing women’s health issues, and insuring them access to education – do not achieve their aim fully or are more difficult to carry out without the inclusion of men.

The World Bank suggests that economic empowerment of women is a rational and efficient method of poverty reduction:

Investing in women is critical for poverty reduction. It speeds economic development by raising productivity and promoting the more efficient use of resources; it produces significant social returns, improving child survival and reducing fertility, and it has considerable intergenerational pay-offs. (1995, p 22)

However, the sustainability of such changes without men involvement and the value of these changes for women are questionable. For example, women’s access to paid employment and credit has been one of the ways to include women into formal production. This has been done through different initiatives, from advocacy to micro-credit. Resulting from formal employment coupled with unchanged domestic duties were the increased hours and intensity of work for women. This constituted a double burden on women because gender roles were not revisited. Women’s sleep, leisure and nutrition were adversely affected as a result (Jackson 1996).

Without men’s inclusion into projects and trainings and without provision of market access to marginalized men, efforts to empower women economically led to masculinity crisis, and increased domestic violence. To demonstrate, micro-credit loans to women backfired against women. Men’s role as breadwinners, already highly undermined in the current neo-liberal regime, was questioned: men could not provide for their families because of widespread poverty and unemployment in the context of increasing credit opportunities for women and raising women employment. In poor areas, neither men nor women had access to capital; however, micro-credit initiatives aimed at gender equality targeted only women leaving men behind. In a study of such projects in rural Kyrgyzstan, local men voiced frustrations about absence of opportunities for men (Thi-Minh Phuong Ngo 2008, p 90) Some men used their women to receive a loan and then open their men-run business or spend the money otherwise, leaving women liable for repayment of the loan. Others were depressed by their women’s economic empowerment and their dissatisfaction and depression translated into greater domestic violence, suppression, and discrimination of women at home. (Thi-Minh Phuong Ngo 2008, p 91). Such effect of micro-crediting is not unique to the Kyrgyz case; micro-credit projects have been criticized and their women-empowering component has been questioned by scholars (Kabeer 2000; Bateman 2010). These projects, focused exclusively on women, failed to undermine the patriarchal structure of the economy by these minor local interventions and created a fake sense of empowerment for women, because they did not include men and did not provide men with alternative perceptions of their masculinity.

Reproductive and sexual health is another area of development agencies’ interventions. In fact, over half of the population living with HIV/AIDS are women (Thomson 2002, 179-180) and HIV today “is spreading faster among women than men, primarily through heterosexual sexual relations” (Chant and Gutmann 2002, p 273). There is a pressing need to address these issues. Despite theoretical recognition of the need to involve men in reproductive and sexual health related projects, practical interventions continue to focus mostly on women’s awareness and responsibility because the project assumes that educating a woman will benefit her children as well and, therefore, will have a multiplier effect. However, such practice does not address the fact that in many cultures male promiscuity is acceptable, men’s sexual pleasures and needs are put above those of women and men are expected to control women sexually (Thomson 2002, p 180). In such unequal power relations it is more difficult for women to negotiate safer sex (Thomson 2002, p 179) which is relevant not only with regards to the HIV/AIDS epidemics but also with regards to other curable sexually-transmitted diseases. Consequently, men inclusion is essential to effective prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.

Furthermore, primarily women are targeted in projects aiming to control population growth by raising women’s awareness about contraception and reproductive rights. It is obvious that men are as involved in the process of sexual intercourse and conception as women; however, the development projects by focusing on women reinforce the perception that women should be responsible for family planning and reproductive health. Consequently, such efforts as women clinics and awareness raising campaigns do not have a desirable effect without men’s involvement. These interventions will continue treating the symptoms of the unequal power relations between genders without altering the patriarchal structures causing the inequality.

A similar disconnection between the actions and the goals happens with regards to female education. It is unarguable that gender equality cannot be reached by targeting only those claimed to be disadvantaged and excluding those who are believed to perpetuate the inequality. It seems sensible to target men in order to change their perceptions about women’s education and employment and, thus, open opportunities for women’s empowerment through access to education and labor. For example, in highly patriarchal societies of Afghanistan and Pakistan, large campaigns promoting female education were held; however, men’s rejection of women’s right to education resulted in horrible attacks on schools and against girls who stood up for their right to education (Husain 2013). In Saudi Arabia, for instance, girls comprise 60% of graduates but only 17% of these women are in the workforce (Buchanan 2013) as a result of unequal power relations and traditional perceptions of women’s roles. Therefore, education is not empowering women if men’s understanding of women’s roles, rights and capabilities is not changed. Women-only interventions do not essentially reform the gender relations which led to inequality in access to education and employment.

Issues like domestic violence and sexual experiences are more contentious because they presuppose development agencies’ involvement with personal domain. Violence against women does not happen without men’s involvement; hence, the solutions should include both, because violence results from gender interrelations. Lack of male involvement constraints the benefits of women-only projects. “Workshops on rights, self-esteem and so on were restricted to women who continued having to deal with unsensitized men in their personal lives, and with patriarchal structures in both private and public arenas” (Chant and Gutmann 2002, p 275). Furthermore, women’s sexual subordination and exploitation is perpetuated by unequal power structures. Often women do not control their bodies and have little say in sexual relationships (Doyle 2002, p 205-206). These cannot be addressed without involving men. Socially constructed masculinities and men’s sexual desires have to be analyzed in order to understand male’s sexual behavior, and why it may result in abuse of women. Thus, women’s sexual experiences are closely interconnected with men’s perceptions of manly behavior and their vision of sexual relationships and without men’s participation it is impossible to understand the reasons for sexual violence and women’s sexual dissatisfaction, let alone address these issues practically. It is essential, however, not to dichotomize these gender relations into victim-perpetrator/oppressor type, but to include class, ethnicity and masculinity analysis and contextualize political and economic realities.

In order to make social change of the patriarchal system possible, development agencies should include men as participants of the projects and as development workers working on gender issues. Targeting male participants will promote better understanding of women’s gendered experiences. Hiring male workers will give more credibility to the projects in the eyes of male participants (Jackson 2012); additionally, more men in gender and development field will undermine a stereotypical equation of gender to women and their interchangeable use. Once gender issues will not be seen as women’s issues, it may be possible to secure more funding and start to fundamentally question larger political and economic patriarchal structures of state and the international arena.

Clearly, the concerns that such men streaming into gender and development sphere may undermine women’s achievements so far and sabotage the efforts of women’s liberation (Chant and Gutmann 2002, p 279) have their grounds. It is essential to ensure that the issues are still seen through the prism of gender relations, which are complex and involve different experiences of women and men from different social groups. Importantly, women should not be made invisible and put back into the category of ‘people in developing countries,’ but neither should their experiences be isolated from those of men.

Thus, excluding men from development practice creates increased work burdens for women and puts overwhelming responsibilities for sexual and reproductive health on them. Also, such women-only approach does not question or reform the patriarchal structure and, therefore, reinforces current gender roles. This does not result in desired women liberation; on the contrary, by questioning masculinities such approach results in the backlash against women. Therefore, including men into development in different roles will, in the first place, benefit women and also increase the chances of social change.

Men Can Have Issues Too

Finally, exclusion of men from development theory and praxis adversely influences men who are not necessarily in a more advantageous position than women. If we are to promote equitable human and economic development men have to be taken into account. As argued in the first section, ‘men’ is not a homogenous category: there are men of different classes, different ethnicities, nationalities and sexual orientations. These differences account greatly for the lived experiences men have (Dolan 2002, p 77-78). It should not be contested that women are often in a disadvantaged position; however, there are many men who are also marginalized or have negative experiences because of their gendered roles (Cleaver 2002, p2).

The disadvantages of socially constructed images of masculinity for men can be particularly seen in the way these assumed gendered roles affect men’s health. In fact, men on average live shorter lives than women do (CIA 2014). In many societies, for example, males are more likely to commit suicide because of their mental health problems (Cleaver 2002, p3). In the former Soviet Union men tend to have more frequent heart and blood pressure problems and suffer more often than women from tuberculosis and lung diseases (Vsemirnaya Organizaciya Zdravoohraneniya 2013). These often have to do with a constructed image of manliness or masculinity which attributes smoking and drinking to manly activities. In South Asia gender divisions of labour presuppose that young men are more often exposed to dangerous pesticides than women (Jackson 1998). Men are expected to perform “heavy and dangerous work in diverse livelihoods” (Jackson 2001, p11-12) while women are assigned easier and less strength-demanding tasks. Such difficult and intense labor puts high bodily demands on often undernourished men (Jackson 2001, p12). Another alarming tendency is related to drug use. Men drug users usually outnumber women (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction 2005). Moreover, 2009 study (Needle and Zhao 2010, p 10) shows that there are significantly more men than women among injected drug users in developing countries which strongly correlates with cases of HIV/AIDS infections through syringes (Needle and Zhao 2010, p 11). In general, men suffer from ill-health more than women (Cleaver 2002, p 3). Therefore, in some cases men are also disadvantaged by the prevailing gender constructions because they result in more dangerous working conditions, more difficult tasks and, as a frequent result, poor health.

Recent social and economic changes and widespread poverty demasculinize men. Structural adjustment programs resulted in decreased employment security, and, hence, men could not secure their gendered roles as breadwinners and providers for the family. Such demasculinization happened in the context of increasing women’s participation in formal economy, growing number of female-headed households and absence of male role models for young boys (Cleaver 2002, p 3). Absence of the alternative masculinity model created a situation in which women could be empowered at the expense of men’s power. Frequently, men, who could not live up to expectations and provide for the family felt frustrated because there was no alternative vision of their role in the family and in the society (Dolan 2002). These men felt disempowered. Furthermore, men, who did manage to secure family income, often had to compromise their time spent with the family and work long hours often risking their lives and health which further undermined their roles as husbands and fathers (Cleaver 2002; Dolan 2002). Dominance of hegemonic masculinity at the expense of multiple masculinities made men more vulnerable to masculinity crisis.

Men in weak and conflict-ridden states, which provided neither security of employment nor physical security, felt loss of domestic and political power. When, in addition to inability to sustain their breadwinner positions, men faced increasing violence against themselves and their families, their role as protectors was also compromised. Such humiliation and frustration often translated into increased men violence against other men and against wives (Dolan 2002, p 70-73). Therefore, perpetuated violence is to a large extent a result of questioned masculinities and absence of alternative gendered roles for men.

By no means, one should diminish the importance of addressing the issue of violence against women or use suggested “men in crisis” theme as a justification for men’s aggression towards women; however, one should not be misled by the dichotomy of men as oppressors and women as victims. Neither of the gender categories is homogenous and is additionally defined by class, ethnicity, nationality and other social identity factors. In fact, violence is widespread in men-men relations. Violence and aggression are often socialized as natural manly behavior. For instance, young men are more likely to die from violence in the streets than girls (Cleaver 2002, p 16-18). Furthermore, boys face such choices as becoming gang’s members and doing drugs in their pursuit of gendered manly role (Thomson 2002).

Therefore, men are also in crisis. Men’s gendered roles as providers for the family force them to take up dangerous and hard jobs which worsen their health. Furthermore, when these ‘breadwinner’ and ‘protector’ roles are questioned by economic hardship or armed conflict men encounter masculinity crisis because they have no alternative perceptions about their roles in the family and in the society. Men feel disempowered and this often intensifies their oppressive and aggressive behavior towards women and other men. Hence, for more equitable and effective development, the initiatives should necessarily involve men.

Concluding Remarks

Theory of gender and development has undergone changes from women-only analysis of WID to a more balanced GAD approach. A major shift in thinking about women’s experiences underlined the importance of men inclusion for understanding and analyzing violence against women, reproductive rights, family planning and sexual issues as well as achieving women’s liberation through economic empowerment and education. Additionally, an inclusive approach provides a platform for marginalized men to be heard. Intellectual engagement with the notion of ‘masculinities in crisis’ uncovers more complex gender relations which are not limited by simple dichotomies: not all men are abusive and not all women are victims. Therefore, exclusion of men from development thinking and practice, first, results in limited theoretical understanding of gender and gender relations; second, women-only projects carried out by the development agencies fail to address women’s issues effectively and often reinforce the existing gender stereotypes with no influence on the overall patriarchal structures; and, finally, disproportionate focus on women fails to liberate ‘men in crisis’ from oppressive structures.

For equitable and inclusive development efforts masculinities and femininities have to be analyzed together because they are formed only in contrast to and under influence of each other. Moreover, simple juxtaposition of masculinity to femininity and vice versa is not analytically helpful because gendered experiences are not homogenous: they are defined by other social identities, and economic and political contexts. Therefore, a more comprehensive gender and development agenda should include men and women in its theory and practice. This might not be easy to do; however, prior simplifications have not brought desired results.



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