Gender is present in every aspect of our lives and affects everyone without exception. This includes men. Gender-based violence is rooted in, and reinforces, gender-based inequalities and cannot be understood outside social structures, gender norms and supporting or reinforcing roles

A patriarchal perspective sees men as the centre of rationality and normality. It is no surprise that it has taken a long time for masculinity to be understood as part of gender construction, and to see men as gendered. The idea of masculinities refers to the position of men in the gender order. Whitehead and Barrett explain that:

Masculinities are those behaviours, languages and practices, existing in specific cultural and organisational locations, which are commonly associated with men, thus culturally defined as not feminine64.

There is no universal set of expectations around masculinity: within societies, there are dominant codes that exert pressure on, and create expectations around men - with consequences for women, children and society as a whole. The understanding of masculinity varies across time and socio-cultural contexts, and within groups and networks; and men also 'perform' their masculinity differently and inconsistently. Just as masculinity is defined by its relationship with femininity, women too have an important role to play in the interpretation and understanding of masculinity, particularly in their interaction with men and boys.

64 Whitehead, S.M., Barret, F.J., The Masculinities Reader, Polity Press, 2004

65 R.W. Connell, Masculinities, 2nd edition, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2005

66 Connell, ibid p. 76-81.

67 R.W. Connell, James Messerschmidt, Rethinking hegemonic masculinities, in GENDER & SOCIETY, Vol. 19 No. 6, December 2005, p. 829-859.

68 Nayak, Anoop; Kehily, Mary Jane, Gender, Youth and Culture: Young Masculinities and Femininities, 2nd edition, Palgrave Macmillan, Kindle Edition, 2013, p. 56

69 Sandy Ruxton, Nikki van der Gaag, Men’s involvement in gender equality – European perspectives, Gender and Development, 21:1, 2013, p. 161-175.

70 Ken Harland, Young Men Talking – Voices from Belfast (1997) YouthAction Northern Ireland and Working with Men Publications, London

71 Ken Harland, Sam McCready, Boys, young men and violence : masculinities, education and practice, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, p. 134

72 Ibidem, p.171.

73 The International Criminal Tribunal for the Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia ruled in 2004 that the crime constituted genocide. The ruling was upheld in 2007 by the International Court of Justice.

74 Adam Jones, Genocide. A Comprehensive Introduction, Routledge, 2006, p.328-329.

Youth work and masculinities

Any youth work addressing gender-based violence needs to address the concepts and constructions of masculinity and femininity that young people are exposed to, and needs to support them to reflect critically on these concepts and on their own relationship to, and performance of gender.

Traditionally, work against discrimination has focused on the empowerment of girls and women, and this needs to remain an important focus.

However, working with boys and young men is also needed, partly in order to support them in exploring their identity and reflecting on their understanding of masculinity and on the social pressures surrounding this concept ; but also in order to encourage them to engage actively against gender-based violence and for gender equality.