While doing our training on gender equity with men and boys, an important piece of feedback we get at the YP Foundation is that many men and boys are struggling with the expectation and aspiration of being what is called “a real man”, a stereotyped figure that expresses limited emotions is handsome, strong, muscular, and virile. We noticed an increase in the number of growth hormones and supplement drugs that young men experiment with and access, the pressure to be in sexually active relationships and the lack of understanding of sexual rights. With an approximate 150 boys we’ve engaged as peer educators, we’ve noticed a diametric change at the end of a 1-year program.
The key feedback we receive is that the ‘shame and embarrassment’ that they perceived and experienced in being able to ‘talk about issues of sexuality and bodily integrity and rights’ is what’s gone. Boys also discover that the insecurity they experience is something that is a common notion and that they’re not alone. Attitudes that change are ones like and I’m quoting feedback from young boys who have gone through the program:
“Men don’t always have to decide what kind of sex a couple will have. Consent can be sexy and I didn’t realize that before, there’s less pressure for a man too that way.”
“I used to think that being a mother was a natural instinct for a girl. Now I think a couple should decide together if they want to have children.”
“Who knew that other boys also got bullied like I did? You always think that the response to feeling insecure is violence, I never knew before this how to use words.”
To make this kind of shift possible, we’ve identified the following elements that must be in place:
This series of posts about engaging men and boys in sexual and reproductive rights and health work is based on a speech that Ishita Chaudhry gave at the High Level Meeting on Youth at the United Nations in New York in July 2011.