Community organizations reflect on promoting healthy masculinities

November 9, 2020 | GFC & Partner Updates

In a GFC webinar, guest panelists from the Changing Gender Attitudes, Empowering Girls initiative shared strategies, ideas and outcomes.

The “Promoting Healthy Masculinities” webinar, held on October 12th, included five guest panelists from GFC’s Changing Gender Attitudes, Empowering Girls initiative in Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. The initiative, which is a collaboration with the Summit Foundation, was designed to address the deep gender disparities in our partners’ communities, which include specific and localized manifestations of violence.

This webinar was held in Spanish with simultaneous English translation.

The panelists shared methodologies, strategies, and program interventions designed to promote healthy attitudes toward gender for children and youth. Additionally, the panelists shared specific findings discovered throughout their five-year journey with the Changing Gender Attitudes, Empowering Girls initiative, as well as some of the challenges they have faced.

To kick off the webinar, Rodrigo Barraza, GFC’s Program Manager for the Americas, welcomed hundreds of listeners tuning in with a survey that asked:

What are the main impacts/benefits of questioning hegemonic masculinity and promoting healthy masculinities with boys?

  •  Fight machismo and build safe spaces of intimacy and emotional support for children and young people
  • Promote comprehensive sexual education and fight sexual and gender-based violence against girls and young women
  • Promote family and community participation and support the leadership of children and youth
  • Fight homophobia and discrimination (build diverse and inclusive societies)
  • Support feminist initiatives and contribute to the empowerment of girls and young people

While the audience submitted their survey responses, Irma from Centro Integral de Atención a las Mujeres, a violence prevention organization based in Cancun, Mexico, shared what she believes is the primary impact of this type of work.

“The results of promoting healthy masculinities are many, but I believe there’s a direct impact on the boys and young men, depending on the analysis and approach of each organization,” Irma González said with a smile. “However, workshops led by men for men generate safe spaces of intimacy and emotional support – so I’ll go with the first choice, but we’ll see what the audience thinks.”

The survey results, which were shared at the end of the webinar, showed that the majority of the participants shared Irma’s belief and selected the first option:

Throughout the webinar, our partners shared different strategies – including school programs and participatory training – designed to create safe environments in which boys can challenge gender stereotypes, express their feelings, and create emotional bonds with other boys.

The webinar maintained a very interactive flow of engagement and conversation by inviting the audience to share their personal experiences and thoughts around who or what molded their gender identity on a visual Google Jamboard – an interactive whiteboard – and in a chat box. The visual board was quickly populated with a flurry of personal stories in both Spanish and English from around the world including India, England, and Uganda.

Here is some of what was shared:

“Because I’m a man, I wasn’t allowed to cry or show weakness.”

“My mother told me my appearance mattered more than me as a person.”

“I needed to learn how to cook, so I could take care of my partner.”

“My grandfather believed higher education was wasted on women.”

“In school I learned that certain attitudes had to be consistent with what it meant to be a man.”

The panelists followed up by sharing what led them into this kind of work. For most, there was a clear need to organize and create spaces that aimed to uproot a patriarchal model of masculinity based on violence, control, and domination. The panelists collectively agreed that this mindset often reproduces and deepens issues that affect people of all genders, such as bullying, homophobia, depression, and sexual violence.

Dunia Perdomo from the Organización para el Empoderamiento de la Juventud (OYE) in Honduras shared just how destructive a patriarchal society can be and what OYE has done to combat its effects.

“Honduras, unfortunately, has some of the highest rates in teenage pregnancy, domestic violence, and femicide [the killing of a woman or girl, in particular by a man and on account of her gender],” she explained. “Of the many things OYE does, one of our primary objectives is to provide a space for equal access to education. Among these classes are lessons in sexual reproductive health and rights.”

All of the partner organizations involved in the Changing Gender Attitudes, Empowering Girls initiative overlap in terms of approach and available programs. Marcos Gámez from Red + Posithiva de Quintana Roo in Mexico, which provides HIV prevention education and health services to people living with HIV, shared how these organizations’ approaches and thinking overlap.

“Being a man doesn’t mean you have to be violent or machista We wanted to start right at the inception of this frame of thinking and behavior,” he said. “We also felt the need to focus on sexual education and rights to help prevent teenage pregnancy — with both the father and mother in mind.”

Marcos also shared that through this network and initiative, Red + Posithiva was able to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies in their community from an average of 14 per year – to zero.

These outcomes show how effective and important this initiative has been. Although most approaches are linked to the power of quality education, many of our partners also shared how tradition and cultural identity have cemented harmful masculinities.

“What we initially wanted to do was create an interactive space for young people to learn and grow – but when only boys started showing up, we started asking why,” said Carlos Can from México y Caribe Jóvenes A.C. “We realized that the boys and men in our Mayan community felt much more comfortable and empowered to enter these spaces, whereas the girls and women did not.”

Carlos explained how context and identities can influence a community’s view of gender and masculinities. In the case of México y Caribe Jóvenes, they had to restructure their initial approach due to certain Mayan traditions and beliefs held by their community. Therefore, they’ve slowly been challenging these norms so that they can create a space for learning where both boys and girls feel equally welcome.

At the end of the webinar, Rodrigo shared his personal reflections on the last five years and emphasized how this work goes beyond workshops and projects – it’s a way of living that will help achieve a more inclusive future.

“After five years of walking together, we have learned that the work of promoting has to start from the inside – reviewing and reflecting on our bodies, our emotions, our history, our community, our own organizations – and then expanding and multiplying at the community level, opening spaces of intimacy, freedom and understanding for all,” he said.


The Changing Gender Attitudes, Empowering Girls initiative aims to deconstruct unhealthy masculinities and reduce gender-based violence through the work of partner organizations in Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. Stay up-to-date on the initiative by reading our website.


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