UNFPA - United Nations Population Fund

State of World Population 2005



© David Alan Haviv/VII
Man proudly displays his baby boy to onlookers in a village on Chacahua Island, Mexico.

Partnering with Boys and Men

-Men's Roles in Achieving the Millennium
Development Goals

-The Impact of Gender Roles on Men

-Reaching Out to Boys and Men

-Reinterpreting Masculinity

-The Formative Years

-Accelerating Progress

The Impact of Gender Roles on Men

Although the lives of women and men are shared, their expectations, opportunities and behaviours often diverge widely. Understanding these differences is essential when crafting effective policies and programmes. Men cannot be considered a homogenous group: Norms vary depending on a range of socioeconomic, cultural, ethnic and other factors, both among and within societies.(9) Nevertheless, the ideal of masculinity is widely associated with bravery, strength, independence and sexual activity.(10)

From an early age, boys are taught, in tacit and explicit ways, the ideals that their mothers, fathers, peers and society expect from them as future men. This ideal of "manhood" can shape the attitudes and behaviour of boys and men. The societal concept of masculinity is connected to self-identity, sense of belonging and self-worth. Where one ideal of masculinity is dominant, it is likely to be transmitted first within the family and then reinforced by the community, by other men and women, by opinion leaders and by the media. Consequently, boys and men face pressure to meet that ideal. Often they internalize the expectations and attitudes that go along with the ideal, at the cost of damage to themselves and others. Societal expectations may also restrict men's ability to see themselves as caring, non-violent and responsible partners.(11)

"I now realize how important it is for us fathers to teach our sons to respect their mothers and sisters, and how we must provide equal opportunities to our daughters."

- Older man from Laos, following a gender training session sponsored by the European Union/UNFPA Reproductive Health Initiative for Youth in Asia (RHIYA), in Luang Namtha

The ideal of men as successful providers, in control and authoritative, influences the ways in which they relate to their wives, children and other men and women. For example, unemployment can undermine a man's ability to prove himself the "breadwinner". Some men fulfil this role by migrating in search of work, even though they must leave their circle of family and friends. When their aspirations are thwarted by lack of opportunity, or when they find themselves away from their families in unfamiliar places, some may seek gratification in alcohol, drugs or risky sexual encounters. In Eastern Europe, declines in men's life expectancy in the 1990s were attributed to stress and depression caused by unemployment in the transition economies. Their distress was reflected in high rates of alcoholism, domestic violence, suicide and cardiovascular diseases.(12)

Many societies tacitly condone male risk-taking and use of violence to exert authority. Boys and men are often socialized to accept violence as appropriate male behaviour, a means to display their manhood and to protect their "honour". This is reflected in high levels of violence, both among men and against women. Boys may first encounter violence within their own families, in the form of domestic abuse.

While young men are often perpetrators of violence, they are also its primary victims: In some Latin American countries, adolescent boys (15 to 19 years of age) represent 69 per cent of homicide victims.(13) Research from several countries suggests that as many as 10 per cent of young men have experienced unwanted advances and early sexual abuse. Young men also frequently force sex on girlfriends, dates or casual sexual partners, according to research in Mexico, Nigeria, Peru and South Africa. A significant proportion of young males in Cambodia, Peru and South Africa reported active involvement in gang rape.(14) To help young men avoid such harmful behaviours, it is first necessary to understand the inter-related social, cultural and economic factors that drive them.

THE SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE LIVES OF MEN. For much of its history, population studies and reproductive health, unlike other development fields, focused almost exclusively on women, specifically on their fertility and reproductive lives.(15) Very little information was collected about men. As a result, few reproductive health services and programmes reflect the specific needs and perspectives of men. However, analysis of national surveys of men aged 15 to 54, undertaken over the past 10 years in 39 developing countries, now provides a better understanding of male sexual behaviour and how it differs from women's.(16)

The data reveal that men's age of sexual initiation tends to be earlier than women's, and that they have more sexual partners, both outside and within marriage. (17) Marriage is relatively infrequent among men in their early twenties or younger. However, young men tend to have more sexual partners than older men, which reinforces the need to give special attention to this age group for HIV prevention. In almost all of the developing countries surveyed, the majority of men aged 20 to 24 report sexual initiation before their 20th birthday. Although this varies significantly by region, in some countries up to 35 per cent report sexual initiation before their 15th birthday.(18)

Reproductive health and contraception remain primarily women's responsibility. A large percentage of married men aged 25 to 39, particularly in sub- Saharan Africa, report that they have not discussed family planning with their partners. Male methods- condoms and vasectomy-account for only a small percentage of global contraceptive use, except in a few industrialized countries and in China.(19)

The proportion of men aged 15 to 49 who know that condom use prevents HIV varies widely-from 9 per cent in Bangladesh to 82 per cent in Brazil. Condom use is rising in many places among sexually active men, particularly those with higher levels of education and those who live in urban areas. This may have to do with availability: Fewer than half of men living in rural areas of Chad, Guinea, Mali, Mozambique and Niger knew of a source for obtaining condoms.(20)

A troubling proportion of men with sexually transmitted infections do not inform their sexual partners. In some developing countries, at least 3 in 10 men aged 15 to 54 did not tell their partners: In Benin and Peru, 6 in 10 did not. Of sexually active young men aged 15 to 24 in Benin, Mali, Niger and Uganda who had had a sexually transmitted infection in the past 12 months, only half or fewer informed their partners.(21)


Research on fatherhood pioneered by the Central American University with UNFPA support identified factors that influence men's roles as fathers. A total of 4,790 fathers, other men and women were surveyed in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. Three types emerged:

'Traditional men' (51 per cent of men surveyed) assume that men are "by nature" at the top of the family hierarchy. They see themselves as providers and disciplinarians- through force if necessary. They believe that affection and understanding towards their children can erode their authority and respect and consider sexual relations outside of marriage (by husbands) to be acceptable. These men tended to be 50 years or older, poor, illiterate or with minimal education and living in rural areas.

'Modern men' (39 per cent) are affectionate with their children and share responsibility for their upbringing, regardless of couple dissolution. They reject the use of violence, view contraception as a shared responsibility and support women's roles outside the domestic sphere. Most were between the ages of 20 and 49, with secondary or higher education, and lived in cities. Many of the "modern" or "transitional" men were younger fathers exposed to new ideas and norms about gender equality and sharing reproductive health and rights and responsibilities with women.

'Men in transition', the remaining 10 per cent, fall somewhere in between. They express uncertain and at times conflicting notions of male identity.

Higher levels of educational attainment are closely correlated with more gender-equitable attitudes. This confirms research from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean suggesting that completion of secondary education is critical to poverty reduction and the social and economic transformations necessary to attain the MDGs. See Sources

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