Joining Forces: Engaging men as allies in gender-sensitive peacebuilding

Conversation Details

Dates of conversation: 
Wednesday, March 30, 2011 to Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Conversation type: 
Type of tactical goal: 

Summary available

Thank you for joining the International Fellowship of Reconciliation's Women Peacemakers Program (IFOR/WPP) and New Tactics for this dialogue. In this dialogue, participants discussed the concept and practicalities of engaging men as gender-sensitive male allies in the peacemaking process. In thinking about overcoming violence and building peaceful communities, working with men and concepts of masculinity can help to challenge destructive, violent mindsets and institutions.

This dialogue was co-hosted by the International Fellowship of Reconciliation's Women Peacemakers Program (IFOR/WPP). The featured resource practitioners that led this dialogue included people that have been directly involved in the WPP training of trainers program, the organizations that work with WPP and others that are interested in sharing their experience and ideas on this topic. 

Why should men and women be involved as allies in peacebuilding?

Peacebuilding and ending violence affect both men and women as victims of gender socialization, so working as allies is essential. Too often, we understand “gender” as something pertaining only to women when in reality it encompasses both sexes. Men themselves gain from an allied approach: deconstruction of gender roles breaks down the gender hierarchies/ stereotypes of masculinities that harm men’s interaction with one another and women.

Ultimately, peacebuilding and the deconstruction of gender roles rely on changing the cultures of patriarchical institutions and systems. Both men and women contribute to the maintenance of the status quo, so sustainable approaches necessarily involve both. Allies influence change from within cultural contexts when it would be difficult for either gender alone. Men conforming to hegemonic expressions of masculinity are often in decision-making positions, and male allies may have greater access to and understanding of the structures that contribute to men and women’s suffering. Thus, men play an important role through their place in the system of patriarchy.

What does integrating a masculinities perspective in peacebuilding imply?

Integrating a masculinities perspective in peacebuilding implies balancing how gender is discussed. Because inclusivity is key, it is important to include the needs, rights, interests, and ideas of other marginalized communities (ethnic, religious, young people, etc.).This also implies a commitment to changing the dominant idea that masculinity equals dominance, control, and violence.

The discussion should not just focus on women, but pay attention to the socially constructed roles, relationships, and responsibilities of men and women. At times this means recognizing that men and women may not have the same initial needs in gender sensitive peacebuilding, and therefore integration implies that gender-sensitive peacebuilding among men be addressed. It’s important that men have a safe space to discuss these issues, where that they can speak out and share with other men how they feel in the current system. 

We must find, as quoted by a participant, a way “to talk about masculinity that distances them a little bit from actual men and women.” In so doing, there must be an acknowledgement that—though the perception may be that men benefit from inequality—they are also victims of hegemonic masculinity. Men's Resources International provides these “Beliefs About Men

What kind of engagement are we looking for and how do we achieve it?

Key characteristics for men and women are listening and interacting respectfully. Women emphasized that they specifically did not want paternalism, but rather collaboration—men joining with an awareness of and openness to women’s experiences, as well as the way peacebuilding benefits men. Thus, engagement is not charity, but a mutually constitutive relationship.

Specifically, male allies understand their own privileges and power, and are willing to give them up. That being said, the approach should not treat men as problems or obstacles; rather both male and female allies should work for a positive development approach. We achieve that by advancing positive masculinity rather than reinforcing perspectives that favor hegemonic masculinity.

Patience and dialogue are essential in engagement, and facilitating sustainable interaction and change. On an individual level, try to understand someone’s experiences, what they think, and value, while on a group level understanding the dynamics within/between individuals and sub-groups. On a political level, it is important to engage patriarchal societies and their gender systems. To facilitate this type of engagement, participants recommended face-to-face dialogues.

What are the challenges, opportunities and next steps?

The participants cited a variety of ongoing challenges to integrating a masculinities perspective in peacebuilding:

  • Getting men to recognize their privilege and the way that it harms women and themselves
  • Combating the early processes of socialization that creates harmful masculinities
  • Women’s reluctance to include men for fear of being patronized or disempowered
  • The tendency among both men and women to conceptualize women’s rights as secondary to military movements for issues such as independence.
  • Maintaining the effects of any gender-sensitive training and sustaining the relationships between men and women activists

In response to these challenges, they came up with the following opportunities and next steps:

  • Clarity of meaning, guidelines, and specific communication between men and women can help address issues of paternalism and concerns about the power dynamic. Furthermore, a clear structure facilitates opportunities for all group members to participate.
  • Networking and working with other “ally” organizations assists with issues of sustainability
  • Similarly, conducting gender-sensitive training in cycles rather than single events also helps with maintaining the movement, along with using social media tools.
  • Existing documentation, in addition to writing new documents and pledges offer opportunities for dialogue and serve as tools to demand change
  • There are opportunities for men and women to unite to broaden resistance to military action when working together          


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Conversation Leaders

SDBotkin's picture
Steven Botkin
Mens Resources International
Oluoch Dola's picture
Oluoch Dola
Chemchemi Ya Ukweli
unity in diversity's picture
Inoka Priyadarshani
Attitude Skills & Knowledge to Empower
Ali Gohar's picture
Ali Gohar
Just Peace International
olivia's picture
olivia dolores gimeno sassine
Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights
Ngendahimana Christian's picture
Christian Ngendahimana
Fountain-ISOKO for Good Governance and Integrated Development
maria rashid's picture
Maria Rashid
Seconde Nyanzobe
Sanne Tielemans's picture
Sanne Tielemans
GPPAC gender team's picture
Gesa Bent
Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC)
Jens van Tricht's picture
Jens van Tricht
eMANcipator - Generating Positive Masculinities
Dorothy Attema's picture
Dorothy Attema
babar's picture
Babar Bashir
Seema Kakran's picture
Seema Kakran
pattiac's picture
Patricia Ackerman
Axial 20/20
Jose de Vries's picture
Jose de Vries
Women Peacemakers Program
Merle Gosewinkel IFOR Women Peacemakers Program's picture
Merle Gosewinkel
Women Peacemakers Program
Isabelle Geuskens's picture
Isabelle Geuskens
Women Peacemakers Program (WPP)