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  • 1st Dec 2021

Engaging men and boys as allies in preventing violence against women and girls

Men have the power to prevent violence

One out of three women experience physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives, the majority at the hands of an intimate partner, both globally and in Latin America. Studies show that men are responsible for the overwhelming majority of these acts.

The first and most basic thing men can to do reduce the prevalence of violence against women and girls (VAWG) is to not perpetrate violence. But we know men can do more.

Men and boys can be key allies and agents of change in preventing violence against women and girls.

Men and boys face countless choices that can either reduce or increase the prevalence of violence against women and girls in society. For example, they can choose to intervene when a colleague is being harassed, to speak up in support of anti-violence policies, and much more.

Efforts to involve men in VAWG prevention have grown in recent years. Researchers have begun evaluating the impact of violence prevention programs, but the evidence is limited, and mostly focused on perpetrator programs. We are still learning about effective ways to help men and boys tangibly advance safety and gender equity.

Behavioral science can support gender equity 

In collaboration with UN Women Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean, BIT explored how we could leverage behavioral science to engage men as allies in preventing violence against women and girls in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In the first phase of our work, we assessed programs that organizations in the region are currently implementing to work with men on preventing violence. We sought to understand what types of programs these were, barriers they navigate, and what has worked well. In addition to interviewing experts and men who had taken part in the programs, the BIT team also reviewed behavioral and violence prevention literature. 

Based on this research, we developed 22 behaviorally-informed strategies to encourage male allyship along four levels: individual, interpersonal, community, and societal. A few illustrative examples are.

Four levels of male allyship

  • Individual: Men who participate in prevention efforts are often inspired by changes in their lives. Research shows that moments of change—such as the start of a new year, moving cities, or becoming a parent—help us adopt aspirational behaviors. These milestones can inform timing to motivate men to participate in VAWG prevention.
  • Interpersonal: Male bystanders can act as allies by deterring perpetrators and supporting victims when they witness VAWG, such as sexual harassment in public spaces. Acts of violence are, however, not always easily or correctly identified. Hotspot mapping (i.e., identifying where violence is most likely to occur) and providing targeted, visible messages can help men identify it in real time and encourage them to act.  
  • Community: Involving influential community members in prevention efforts can help counteract harmful social norms. A community’s social norms can encourage, excuse, or allow violence against women to be perpetrated. The mobilization of influential figures, such as religious leaders, is a recurrent component of programs that have successfully shifted social norms.
  • Societal: Setting defaults within organizations that contribute to VAWG prevention can help those in power (often men) make the right decisions. Defaults may include mandating female representation in decision-making forums or devoting a part of the annual budget to VAWG prevention.

For all 22 behaviorally-informed strategies, stay tuned to this blog. We will publish the full report in the upcoming weeks.  

Applying behavioral insights to address digital violence against women and girls

Our second phase of work included applying and testing our report findings to prompt men to take a stand against violence against women and girls online. 

We developed four behaviorally-informed messages encouraging men to intervene when they witness violence against women and girls online. We ran an online randomized controlled trial to test them with over 5,000 men from Bolivia and Guatemala. We measured intention to intervene by showing each respondent one of the following behaviorally-informed messages and asking how they would react to three scenarios illustrating varying forms of digital violence:

Rules of Thumb
Goal: Provide a set of clear and actionable rules to respond to digital violence

Digital Violence Types
Goal: Provide examples of common types of digital violence to facilitate identification 

Dynamic Social Norms
Goal: Highlight that the majority adopts or views the behavior as desirable to encourage individuals’ behavior change

Deliberate Choice
Goal: Present not acting against digital violence inaction as a deliberate choice

Key results

Three out of four messages—Rules of Thumb, Digital Violence Types and Deliberate Choice—significantly increased men’s intention to intervene. The Rules of Thumb message performed best. It increased the proportion of respondents who reported they would stop perpetrators by 26%. 

The messages also improved a range of other measures. Men who saw the intervention messages were also more likely to report that digital violence was a serious problem, were less likely to believe their friends would be accepting of digital violence, and reported higher levels of self-efficacy in acting against digital violence than those who did not see any message.

Read the full report here

A long way ahead

Men’s allyship alone will not end violence against women and girls—nor will behavioral science. However, combined with other prevention efforts, they have the potential to shift norms and make our societies less hospitable to acts of violence.

We are committed to gender equity and exploring how behavioral science can help practitioners engage men and boys in becoming agents of change. If you would like to learn more or partner with us on this work, please get in touch.