Celebrating Feminists’ Voices, Inspiring Global Peace

Challenging Masculinity: The Necessary Step in Gender Equality?

18 October 2012

It goes without saying that one of WILPF’s top priorities is ensuring women’s perspectives disrupt the gender stereotypes that entrench us in patriarchy.

But what cost does the affirmation of gender norms have on men and why is this consideration just as relevant in the struggle to ensuring women’s rights?

WILPF is organising a series of “Food for Thought” meetings for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and yesterday it was the issue of, ‘Challenging Masculinity: Men, Boys and Gender Equality’ – with our WILPF Secretary General Madeleine Rees acting as moderator.

Photo of 'Challenging Masculinity' UNHCR Panel Discussion
(From left to right) Gary Barker, Dean Peacock, Madeleine Rees, Abhijt Das, Christopher Lomax

The first panel speaker was Dean Peacock, the Director of the Sonke Gender Justice Network. He opened the discussion by asking what impact gendered roles are having on men today.

Certainly, the idea of a fixed feminine norm is limiting and confining to women. So it makes sense that men too would struggle with an entrenched notion of what it means to be a ‘man’.

Research collated by Peacock in South Africa, as well as the International Men and Gender Equality Survey across a range of nine countries, have found that men who buy into socially constructed norms of masculinity are more prone to committing domestic or sexual violence, suffering from alcoholism and an inability to form closer relationships.

On the other hand, the Survey concludes that the younger male generation, those who have received one or two years of higher education, or those who have witnessed father-figures in domestic settings are more likely to embrace gender equality.

Importantly, this embrace leads to a reduced rate of violence and alcoholism and allows these men to function more fully in both social and intimate relationships.

So there are concrete benefits for men who question the established gender norms!

Another of the panel speakers, Abhijt Das, paralleled the Survey’s findings with the work of Men’s Action for Stopping Violence Against Women (MASVAW) in India.

He argued compellingly that those men who remain silent about incidences of violence and discrimination indirectly endorse the ideas of those who are violent.

He urged men to stop reaffirming existing norms by remaining silent. MASVAW’s research found that those who challenged social gender conventions gained self-respect, self-esteem and established stronger relationships with their wives.

The struggle for gender equality comes down to power. The problem for men is not simply a reluctance to level the playing field and grant more rights to women; it is rather the threat that women’s rights pose on their own sense of power – a power that has been afforded to them by the mere fact of them being male.

So it is all the more refreshing and exciting to hear about research being conducted by men, that presents gender equality as a way of benefitting men just as much as it does women!

(Madeleine’s jokes about keeping the key male speakers locked in the room and mining them for their insightful evaluations were made perhaps rather wistfully…)

Christopher Lomax, UK diplomat at the mission in Geneva and representative on human rights raised one of the most pertinent points: that we currently strive for women’s human rights within a human rights framework that was made by men, for men. As a result, the notion of ‘equality’ can never be more than abstract.

The next step, therefore, is to create a different gender dimension, a dismantling of social norms, so that men, women and those who do not identify themselves as either gender can work together in a more free, flexible, and equal manner.

Having watched and listened to this session, it confirms that this really could be the way forward for gender equality. Remembering to consider the effects of gender norms not just on women but on men as well, and working away from those limiting norms and the power dynamic that they perpetuate, will free up policy making processes as whole. This transformative process will include women as genuine participants rather than simply placed in positions of leadership as a symbolic display of equality.

Share the post

Your donation isn’t just a financial transaction; it’s a step toward a more compassionate and equitable world. With your support, we’re poised to achieve lasting change that echoes through generations. Thank you!

Thank you!

Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Mauris facilisis luctus rhoncus. Praesent eget tellus sit amet enim consectetur condimentum et vel ante. Nulla facilisi. Suspendisse et nunc sem. Vivamus ullamcorper vestibulum neque, a interdum nisl accumsan ac. Cras ut condimentum turpis. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia curae; Curabitur efficitur gravida ipsum, quis ultricies erat iaculis pellentesque. Nulla congue iaculis feugiat. Suspendisse euismod congue ultricies. Sed blandit neque in libero ultricies aliquam. Donec euismod eget diam vitae vehicula. Fusce hendrerit purus leo. Aenean malesuada, ante eu aliquet mollis, diam erat suscipit eros, in.


WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

Skip to content