Men and Development:
Politicizing Masculinities

Andrea Cornwall, Jerker Edström and Alan Greig (eds.)

Book Review

While gender has received increasing attention among development practitioners and scholars in recent years, only in the last decade and a half has significant attention been focused on efforts to engage men in achieving greater gender equality.

Men and Development: Politicizing Masculinities contributes to the growing literature on men, gender, and development. It brings together scholars and activists from across the world to make the case for including men in gender activism and to do so in more overtly political ways that pay greater attention to the structural factors shaping and maintaining gender inequalities and the often destructive norms about manhood that all too often compromise both women’s and men’s lives.

Combining theoretical analysis with examples from the field, it is a thought-provoking read. The first third of the book shows how a failure to take account of masculinities in development programmes and policies can have harmful consequences for both men and women. Chimaraoke Izugbara and Jerry Okal’s chapter on Malawi, for example, makes the claim that HIV campaigns that tell men to abstain from sex have often led to an increasein risky sexual behaviour, as men react to the threat to their sexual potency – a key indicator of manliness in Malawi as elsewhere – by demonstrating their fearlessness (another key indicator). Similarly, Cheryl Overs argues that the criminalisation of men who use the services of sex workers not only perpetuates the misleading stereotype that led to the law – the view that all clients are perverted or violent – but also, by positioning women as victims, both accentuates the norm of men as aggressors and makes it easier to enact repressive policy that reduces women’s economic freedom.

The book’s second section draws on cases from east Africa, South Africa, and India to examine the interplay between masculinities and social and economic development. Margrethe Silberschmidt’s chapter makes the argument that the Victorian values disseminated by the European colonisers of east Africa introduced the notion that men should be family breadwinners. She argues that the structural adjustment policies of the 1980s left millions of men without work, and thus robbed them of what had become a vital marker of masculinity. Some switched to an alternative marker of masculinity to restore their self-esteem – namely that which emphasised notions of manhood tied to sexual conquest and fearlessness in the face of the threat of HIV/AIDS. Others, according to Silberschmidt, turned to alcohol, another of the appurtenances of maleness. The author criticises HIV prevention programmes for not focusing adequately on the new masculinity norms that heightened men’s risk taking and, as a consequence, their vulnerability to HIV infection.

Robert and Penny Morrell build on Silberschmidt’s case in their discussion of apartheid’s emasculation and impoverishment of black South African men. They suggest that men who are disempowered in this way should be provided with alternative models of masculinity and encouraged to value non-economic roles that do not rely on asserting power over others. They cite caring for families or friends, playing a part in communities, or participating in the struggle for gender equality as possible alternatives.

The final – and in our opinion most successful  – section looks more closely at policy advocacy and activism. Alan Greig calls for the analysis of masculinities to be broadened from cultural to political explanations. The state, multilateral agencies, international donors, and non-government organisations all play a role in enforcing harmful gender paradigms, and these institutions must be held accountable for how their policies and actions legitimise male dominance and violence. In a perceptive chapter on the role of men in women’s empowerment, Andrea Cornwall and coauthors provide examples of state activities that perpetuate the gender binary. Laws that oblige divorced men to provide alimony payments without also obliging them to provide child care, for example, or microfinance programmes that target women because men are seen as too irresponsible with money strengthen existing gender norms and can spark conflict between men and women. Raewyn Connel’s piece draws attention to the ways in which corporate masculinities too often prioritise profit over people in ways that seldom receive gender scrutiny but nonetheless have devastating consequences for women. Her example of the pharmaceutical industry’s determination to make profits from anti-retroviral treatment regardless of the consequences for people living with HIV in the developing world is a trenchant example, especially given the huge burden of care and support borne by the women who took care of and grieved for the millions who died unnecessarily of AIDS-related complications.

Bottom-up changes in individuals’ behaviour, then, must go hand in hand with top-down reforms of institutions. Case study chapters on Brazil’s Promundo scheme, which works with boys and men to achieve gender equality, and on Nicaragua’s Association of Men Against Violence (AHCV) show the potential and the limits of work in the latter area. Promundo has achieved impressive gains in shifting individual attitudes and behaviour and in mobilising men in communities to challenge inequities, but it has struggled to do the very difficult work of building national movements for change and therefore to influence public policy, as is true across many fields of social change activism and most of the national work to engage men in gender equality. Patrick Welsh, the author of the Nicaragua chapter, identifies several entry points for high-level activism, including monitoring legislation and public policy, training people in positions of political power, and formalising alliances with the women’s movement. He acknowledges, however, that while AHCV has supported the Nicaraguan women’s movement in lobbying and advocacy work, its successful efforts to promote behaviour change among men on the ground have not yet reached male policymakers.

Although these examples are valuable, the book would have benefited from more case studies of the kind of political work that the authors argue is not happening but is in fact being implemented in a number of countries. Sonke Gender Justice, the organisation we work for, has engaged in high-profile media advocacy to challenge men in political office for sexist statements or practice, including our case against Julius Malema, then head of South Africa’s African National Congress Youth League and perhaps the most visible public figure in the country, for sexist remarks he made about South African President Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser. The Uttar Pradesh group Men’s Action to Stop Violence Against Women have at times put their lives on the line to stop dowry murders and have done impressive work mobilising men across arguably the most conservative state in India to challenge the still pervasive patriarchy. Similarly, the MenEngage Alliance spoke out forcefully against inaction on the part of both the African Union and the United Nations in the wake of mass rapes committed in late 2010 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Perhaps the editors should consider a second volume that better captures some of this more political work emerging as the field becomes more ambitious and more sophisticated. In some instances the more traditional community education work is itself quite political; it is easy to underestimate how daunting it can be in some settings to challenge entrenched gender norms, or how difficult it is to find or sustain the funding needed to do it. At times the authors seem to lose sight of just how much courage and tenacity it takes to challenge hegemonic masculinities in some settings.

On the whole, however, Men and Development makes a useful contribution to literature on gender and development and to the need for work with men to be more sophisticated and multifaceted. Its most successful chapters offer a new way of looking at social problems in the developing world, and point the way to new approaches to achieving greater gender equality and better health for women and men. Anyone with an interest in gender equality will benefit from reading this book, while for anyone working with men to transform gender roles and establish a more gender-just world, it is a must.

Review ©2012 Dean Peacock, Sonke Gender Justice, Cape Town, South Africa, Angelica Pino, Sonke Gender Justice, Cape Town, South Africa, and Mark Weston, Policy Consultant, Spain

Men and Development: Politicizing Masculinities is published by Zed Books

Review originally published in Gender & Development 20.3 (2012)