Image Credit: Graham Crumb imagecity.com
Important lessons from a portfolio of Burnet Institute projects on the engagement of men to improve health and gender equality were shared at a special workshop for leading Australian NGOs, researchers and policy makers.
The workshop focused on an evaluation by Burnet Women’s and Children’s Health Specialist Liz Comrie-Thomson of five projects supported by the Australian NGO Cooperation Program, undertaken between 2012 and 2018 in Myanmar, Papua New Guinea and Zimbabwe.
A key aspect of each of these projects was the engagement of men to improve gender related determinants of health as a strategy to improve health outcomes.
“It’s unusual to have had five projects addressing this same theme in this short time frame, so it was a great opportunity to take a look at what we did, how we did it, and draw lessons from it,” Ms Comrie-Thomson said.
Image: Burnet Women’s and Children’s Health Specialist Liz Comrie-Thomson presents to the workshop
“Gender inequality is one of the fundamental causes of poor health outcomes for women and girls, and men and boys, and engaging men is increasingly recognised as a valuable strategy to challenge gender norms, roles and relations, with positive effects on health and gender equality.”
Ms Comrie-Thomson’s evaluation identified lessons about project design, promoting ownership and sustainability, managing risks and potential harms, and potential sensitivities around the acceptability of engaging men.
A set of key recommendations includes:
- Projects seeking to engage men to improve health and gender equality should actively and specifically promote gender equality, and
- Projects should support an understanding and promotion of men’s roles in achieving benefits for women and men, by allying with women to address gender inequality and gendered determinants of poor health.
“Where you have projects that are working with men and seeking to change men’s behaviours in some way, while at the same time seeking to address underlying gender norms and relations, it’s easy for that deeper and more complicated part to get lost,” Ms Comrie-Thomson said.
Image: Workshop participants take part in activities
“So taking the time to review how that tension can be resolved, looking at strategies that worked and didn’t work and sharing the lessons takes it a step beyond.”
Ms Comrie-Thomson believes the evaluation will help to keep Burnet at the forefront in this field, and she’s hopeful the workshop and her report can inform work performed elsewhere in the sector.
“If you’re trying to work with men to address harmful gender norms and gender relations then I think these lessons are probably helpful,” she said.
“The discourse is changing globally. There’s a broad understanding now that it’s not about what men should and shouldn’t do, it’s about what we collectively create as a society, and that informs how we do our work.”
Find out more about Burnet’s maternal and child health research.