Executive summary

Masculinities are social constructs that relate to perceived notions – shared by both men and women – about how men behave and how they are expected to behave in order to be considered “real” men. They are shaped by and are part of social institutions – formal and informal laws, social norms and practices. Diverse forms of masculinities coexist across cultures, geographical locations and time, and some of these masculinities directly hinder women’s empowerment and gender equality.

“Restrictive masculinities” and their associated norms are often rigid and promote inflexible notions and expectations of what it means to be a “real” man. In contrast, other masculinities, defined in this publication as “gender-equitable masculinities”, present a more flexible alternative, permitting men to take on diverse roles and behaviours, while not limiting women’s agency. For example, gender-equitable masculinities do not define men’s role in the household as strictly providers, but rather allow for their fuller engagement in all aspects of household life, including unpaid care and domestic work. Furthermore, by acknowledging women’s economic contribution, gender-equitable masculinities support women’s broader access to education, the labour market and decision-making roles. Indeed, the masculinities that govern a society shape women’s and girls’ opportunities and constraints across all aspects of life, especially within the economic, political and private spheres.

This publication analyses norms of restrictive masculinities and provides a roadmap to measure changing norms of masculinities. It identifies ten norms of restrictive masculinities that produce direct consequences for women’s and girls’ empowerment and well-being across the economic, political and private spheres. It also provides an alternative vision of gender-equitable masculinities across these spheres. In order to facilitate gender-equitable masculinities that promote women’s empowerment and provide support towards gender equality, there is a need to equip policy makers with the tools to facilitate this transformation. One of these tools is the ability to measure masculine norms across cultures and geographies. As such, this report proposes indicators that can be used as proxies to measure and analyse changing masculinities and their impact on women’s empowerment.

The public sphere, especially the economic and political spheres, has historically been the domain of men. Within this sphere, there are five norms that characterise restrictive masculinities and which are widely accepted across cultures. According to these norms, a “real” man should:

  • Be the breadwinner, working for pay to provide for the material needs of the household.

  • Be financially dominant, earning more than women.

  • Work in “manly” jobs, regarding those professions that society defines as “men’s work” and not those it views as “women’s work”.

  • Be the “ideal worker”, prioritising work over all other aspects of life.

  • Be a “manly” leader, cultivating an assertive and space-occupying leadership style.

While the private or domestic sphere has traditionally been treated as the domain of women, restrictive masculinities promote male dominance within this sphere as well. In the private sphere, the five norms of restrictive masculinities entail that a “real” man should:

  • Have the final say in household decisions, positioning him at the top of a hierarchy at home.

  • Control household assets, solidifying his authority at home by controlling and administering household assets.

  • Protect and exercise guardianship of family members, directing it especially at women and girls in the family.

  • Dominate sexual and reproductive choices, initiating sexual encounters and making decisions regarding having children, birth spacing, etc.

  • Not do unpaid care and domestic work, considering this work as generally “women’s work”.

These norms of restrictive masculinities induce direct negative consequences for women and girls. In the economic sphere, for example, these norms promote the devaluation of women’s economic contribution and support the view that men’s labour is more important and valuable than women’s labour. As such, these norms justify women’s exclusion from the labour force, high-status jobs and decision-making positions. In the political sphere, these norms uphold the view that leadership is a masculine characteristic and that men inherently make better leaders than women. In the private sphere, norms defining men’s roles as decision makers minimise women’s and girls’ agency and decision-making power over their time, bodies and resources.

It is increasingly clear that restrictive masculinities must be addressed in order to facilitate women’s empowerment and gender equality. With the right tools, policy makers are well positioned to accelerate the transformation of masculine norms. Data on masculinities is one of these critical tools which can provide insight into the current state of masculine norms and allow policy makers to measure the impact that actions such as policies, legal reforms and campaigns have on masculinities. For instance, with the right data, policy makers can better understand the way norms of masculinities are influencing the low uptake of paternity leave. Equipped with this knowledge, they can create campaigns, national programmes and legal changes to address these norms and promote gender-equitable masculinities, especially when it comes to care. Furthermore, data on masculinities will enable a better knowledge of the role that large-scale phenomena, such as economic crises and the Covid-19 pandemic, play in shaping masculine norms. However, data on masculinities remain unevenly available and incomplete, thus preventing comparisons across countries, regions and time. As such, there is a need for greater investment in data collection. This publication proposes a set of indicators to guide future data collection efforts and an evidence-based approach to policy making.


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