Strategy Brief: Inspiring Men To Drive Culture Change For Gender Equality

Equality : men are part of the solution.

Imagine a world in which all people live with dignity, equality, and justice. In that world, we are unconstrained by limiting, damaging norms dictating “the” way to be a man or a woman. In that world, we are all safe in our homes and limitless in our potential. We can build that world by building a critical mass of men who challenge gender norms, stand for gender equality, and work to make violence against women and girls unacceptable.

Deeply ingrained cultural beliefs and practices maintain the inferior status of women and lead to gender-based discrimination and violence. They exact a steep price from families, communities, and societies in terms of lost human potential. The more men take action for culture change, even in their spheres and among their peers, the sooner we realize equality—together.

Now is the time.

Men’s activism for gender equality is not new. But now more than ever, men and women from Delhi to Dallas are realizing their responsibility and power to end violence and discrimination against women—and standing together to do it. Awareness and momentum, among civil society, government, the media, and more, have never been stronger: in the U.S., in India, around the world. We are beginning to transform the rigid gender norms that hold us all back. We are starting to shift gender equality from “women’s issue” to shared vision. Seize this moment together and there’s no going back.

Ending violence and realizing equality require deep culture change.

Preventing violence against women—domestic violence, sexual assault, street harassment, early marriage, and more—requires us to address the deepest roots of the culture that enables it. This approach requires everyone. Breakthrough’s more than 15 years of research and interventions, designed to innovate and inspire concrete action for culture change and human rights, yield the following recommendations for engaging men as changemakers.

men and masc numbers

The Breakthrough solution.

1. Encourage men to see their stake. Perhaps they are fathers or survivors; feel confined by traditional notions of masculinity; see that men’s violence harms other men and that most violence is committed by men; consider respect-based relationships as most fulfilling; or understand that when women thrive so do we all. Invite them to find their own emotional starting point.
2. Meet men where they are. Individual and cultural transformation can be long-term and slow work. We are all socialized to minimize violence against women. It’s important to respect current levels of awareness—and insist that everyone can do better.
3. Invite men into the community. Most humans share a desire to belong, to find meaning, purpose, identity, and recognition. Speak to that desire—rather than a vision of lone heroes fighting violence—to build groups of changemakers with powerful goals and connections.
4. Highlight new role models. Traditional masculine norms celebrate domination, aggression, capacity for violence, and control or devaluing of women. Provide alternative models inspiring men to explore diverse masculinities based on respect, accountability, and nuanced notions of strength and power.
5. Use storytelling. Authentic stories have the power to inspire “Aha!” moments, empathy, and individual and collective action.
6. Provide clear to-dos. Grim statistics and broad calls to “end violence against women” can overwhelm or under-inspire potential allies. Instead, offer clear, concrete, relevant, and bitesize actions as starting points—and continue to invite increased engagement.
7. Leverage the power of peers. Celebrity role models are immense motivators. Yet our identities and priorities are also forged by and among our peers. Invite men to engage those closest to home—families, neighbors, fraternity brothers, colleagues—to use their own skills and voices to drive change.
8. Stay positive. Shaming alienates. Position men as partners, not potential perpetrators of violence. Focus on solutions. Send the message that each of us can do more—and when we do, we will build a better world for all.

Download the Men and Masculinity Strategy Brief