Mandating men

Understanding masculinities and engaging men for gender equality and peacebuilding in Myanmar

The Union of Myanmar is a complex country context marked by ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity. It has been shaped by decades of an authoritarian, isolationist regime and numerous interconnected conflicts, ranging from national-level ethnic political and armed conflicts and a pro-democracy struggle, to broader social-level land conflicts. It has also seen conflicts at the household level, such as domestic violence. In Myanmar, as in other countries, these numerous forms of violence affect men, women, boys, girls and those with diverse gender identities in different ways.

There is increasing awareness that gender is important in understanding conflict and working towards peace and social cohesion. A growing number of development programmes are dedicated to addressing this. In practice, such programmes have largely focused on women’s participation in political and peacebuilding processes. This focus on increasing women’s meaningful participation in arenas and activities formerly dominated by men is an essential aspect of peacebuilding. However, there is another ‘side’ to the gender inequality dilemma, which is less well understood – one that deals with the experiences of men and boys.

Social expectations around masculinity are often overlooked (or oversimplified). Masculinities, that is, the social expectations of men to act or behave in certain ways because they are men, can be drivers of conflict or violence. However, limiting work on this to ‘men-engage’-type approaches focusing mainly on mobilising men to prevent sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) can mean overlooking how social expectations of masculinities can also lead to increased vulnerability for men and boys, especially related to violence. To date, this has often not been recognised or addressed by peacebuilding programming. Importantly, examining masculinities should not detract from seeking to understand and respond to women’s needs – they are complementary and a comprehensive approach to gender should take both into account.

This policy brief argues that understanding masculinities is important, because these masculinity norms – these social expectations – can be mobilised to manipulate the taking of violent actions. It also argues that conflict analyses and interventions that overlook this gender dimension are incomplete, and risk missing important entry points for peace. It provides practical recommendations to government, EAOs and civil society actors supporting peace and security processes in Myanmar.

The findings and recommendations outlined in this policy brief are based on the research reports 'Behind the masks: Masculinities, gender, peace and security in Myanmar' and 'Pulling the strings: Masculinities, gender and social conflict in Myanmar'.

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