Thinking Outside of the Gender Toolbox

With others I use a condom, but not with the girl I love. If she gets pregnant, it’s an act of God. -Young Ivoirian man, 18 years old

In Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, young men aren’t ready to discuss contraception with their partners.

The Transform/PHARE project, funded by USAID, used human-centered design (HCD) to change this norm.  HCD was used to better understand the context in which young men ages 15 to 24 live and work, and to learn relevant ways to approach them. The project aimed to engage them in conversations with their sexual partners about contraception and family planning.

Transform/PHARE also made a commitment to work towards designing gender transformative, or at a minimum, gender accommodating interventions. The Gender Integration Continuum Tool, developed by the Interagency Gender Working Group and provided by USAID, was incorporated into the project’s gender strategy. The continuum provides a framework for project approaches to progress from “gender blind” to “gender aware.” While a gender blind project ignores the power dynamics between women and men—or even reinforces them—a gender aware project examines and addresses gender dynamics and adopts an approach along the continuum.

While the tool was created as a lens to assess project approaches, Transform/PHARE took the tool a step further. Rather than mapping the continuum stages in which their project approaches fell, Transform/PHARE used the Gender Integration Continuum to map the stages in which their target audiences fell on the spectrum.

Early in the process, Transform/PHARE collected insights on their target audience, young men ages 15 to 24, and discovered that the goal of bringing them to the gender transformative stage was unrealistic (at least in the short term). Here’s why:

  • Young men’s number one goal is having sex
  • Young men emulate their bachelor bosses, but dream of a traditional future
  • Growing up among unspoken expectations, no one is equipped to talk about sex
  • Young women want to use condoms, but only men can carry them
  • HIV matters, but pregnancy is not a young man’s problem
  • Contraceptive methods are not relevant, and risks are an afterthought to sex
  • As relationships progress, men’s supportive behavior often turns coercive
  • Women are becoming aware of their desires, and young men are curious to learn how to please them

Young men who participated in the inspiration research seemed to fit into one of four archetypes: the hustler boss, the oblivious playboy, the honey-mooner and the curious virgin. After identifying the archetypes, it was obvious that the target audience could no longer be thought of as one group of young men in the informal sector.

Although this is not the way that the gender equality continuum tool is used, Transform/PHARE used it as a guide to translate the stages of the continuum into behavioral expectations: inhibitors (exploitative), supporters (accommodating) or enablers (transformative).

The target audience was not ready to engage in discussions about contraception and number or timing of children right away. The project decided to take small, incremental steps toward change using the Stages of Change model (Protchaska & DiClementi) as a reference. During this process, young men would move from the “inhibitor” stage into the “supporter” stage. Over the long-term, the project would help them move into an “enabler” role, meaning they would support gender equitable reproductive health behaviors. According to the model, change happens gradually, step-by-step, and an individual rarely changes behavior or beliefs dramatically before going through a series of stages.

Regardless of which archetype they belong to, young men are not interested in discussing contraception. They are more interested in discussing and learning about sex and relationships and are open to topics such as women’s pleasure, how to engage with their girlfriends and how to tell their parents that they have a girlfriend. They are more likely to first discuss how they interact with girls when it comes to sex and romance before they are ready to discuss couples’ communication, joint decision making, mutual responsibility and contraception.

Using the gender integration continuum as a guide ensured that the intervention would focus on changing male-oriented gender norms and roles over time, rather than solely focusing on reproductive health and contraception.

One of the results of this process was a comic-book style story prototyped on Facebook, which proved appealing to young men. The story, which can be found here touched on topics of sexuality, unplanned pregnancy, condom use and gender equality. Interaction with the story on the social media page has increased over time, and although it captivated young men beyond the informal sector, it did show that social media could be an effective tool to use when discussing traditionally unspoken topics such as sexuality, unplanned pregnancy and gender equality.

Click here to learn more about Transform/PHARE’s successes.

Lisez-ici pour la version française de cet article.

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