Gender Transformative Programming in Health: Experiences in Engaging Men and Faith Leaders

Thank you for joining us for this International Development Week and diving into Gender Transformative Programming in Health: Experiences in Engaging Men and Faith Leaders



  • Merydth Holte-McKenzie, Senior Gender Equality Advisor, World Vision Canada
  • Alice Ng Bouwma, Grants Program Manager, World Renew
  • Saifullah Chaudhry, Senior Gender Equality Advisor, Plan International Canada

Q&A Responses

Question: On training for men, have you identified differences in content and method of training compared to previously developed gender training materials and methods that are more targeted at women? What are your key learnings which should be considered for designing gender training for women, men, and mixed groups?

Response: Considering low literacy among many communities where we work, it is important to consider the following while engaging men, women, girls, and boys:

  • Training materials need to be heavy on experiential learnings, and extensive pictorial content to be added and not merely text-based content.
  • Facilitators must ensure a safe space for the participants to articulate their views and get into dialogue without any fear of judgment.
  • Working sessions must encourage reflection and discussion
  • The issue of social stigma for men and boys who adopt and demonstrate positive and non-violent masculinities needs to be addressed during training and tools to be provided to handle it.

Question: How do you address the concern that “gender equality” is being imposed as a Western concept to the community and as a donor’s requirements? Often there is resistance from the local leaders (male) as projects with gender focus can be seen as challenges to the existing power dynamic and cultural norms.

Response: The training tools need to be developed based on the findings of country-specific gender assessment. Even if one has broader training materials, these need to be heavily contextualized while using local examples and experiences. Enter into dialogue with communities to hear their voices and understand if they are content with the workload and decision-making balance and powers. Using tools such as 24 Hour Clock is very revealing.

Response: Secular development language around gender equality is sometimes dismissed as ‘foreign,’ or ‘top-down’ by those for whom religious beliefs are central to their worldview, presenting a barrier to the adoption of gender-transformative attitudes and behaviours. The use of alternative language, connecting to personal experiences, and offering space for spiritual and scriptural reflection are really important. Once faith leaders share their personal change in theological views with their followers, broader community changes in attitudes and perceptions about female-male relationships and power dynamics can take place.

Question: The reactions to these programs seem to have brought in opportunities to learn. Did you feel you needed to and/or were expected to revise some of the underlying assumptions to the approaches that were co-developed?

Response: The general assumption that it will be difficult to engage religious leaders may not hold in many situations. It all depends on how religious leaders are approached. If it is not based on dialogue and understanding religious leaders’ context one may experience pushback. Engaging a well-respected religious leader from the target community/area/country is important, followed by stating the problems and their consequences on women girls, boys and men are critical, and then initiating the process of dialogue and co-creation of the content/messages, validation of the message/curriculum, and then cascading in the community.

Response: Ensuring that training and group discussion content and behavioral change strategies were locally informed and appropriate for the local context was a critical first step in the roll-out of MenCare. Different models were used to understand the range of local factors, (including local barriers and motivators) influencing male engagement in RMNCH/N. This information was used to prioritize interventions, develop customized modules, and target social and behaviour change communication materials effectively.

Additional Resources

World Vision Canada

New Beginnings: Constructive Male Engagement

A Case Study: Supporting survivors of sexual violence through faith and community advocacy

World Renew

Christian Communities in Taking Action Against Gender Based Violence

Plan Canada International Canada:

Fathers Club Manual: Engaging Men in Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health and in Sexual and Reproductive Health for the Multi-Country SHOW Program

Promoting Positive Masculinities: Findings from a Qualitative Study of Fathers Clubs in Reproductive Health Programming in Bangladesh, Ghana, Haiti, and Nigeria

Engaging Religious Leaders in Reducing Maternal and Child Mortality, and Gender Equality