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Masculinities and patriarchy

Economic empowerment

We know that social, economic and political trends have important links with shifts in gender equality and men’s relationships to women’s empowerment, positively and negatively; trends such as globalisation, urbanisation, increasing (and more gender-equal) enrolment in education, changing types of conflicts and resurgent nationalisms or fundamentalisms. We also know a little about how social processes and trends are mediated by policies, institutions and movements. These range from international frameworks down to national and local policies, institutions and services, but also involve interactions between formal and informal dimensions of institutions and process. A key finding from recent evidence is that there has been a focus on individual women’s or girls’ empowerment rather than policy attention to gender relations or structural perspectives, or these complex interactions.

Gendered inequalities and power relations are intersecting (or 'working together') with other inequalities, such as social class, age, ethnicity, race, ability and sexuality. Yet, more needs to be learned and shared on these topics; particularly on the way that masculinities figure in such intersectionality and how that affects linkages and relations between different political projects, movements and struggles. In the language of the principles underpinning the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), men’s and women’s lives are also ‘indivisible’, where personal identity also reflects social, economic and political dimensions, which constantly interact and coexist across both public and private spaces. We therefore need to explicitly link masculinities and men relationally to women’s economic empowerment, the sharing of care work, sexual health and wellbeing, equality in public participation and with responding to conflict and violence (including gender-based violence).  

Globalisation and macroeconomic policy over the past 30 years have increased women’s participation in formal and informal paid work, whilst their responsibilities in unpaid domestic work have not been significantly reduced. Many other gendered economic inequalities remain (such as gender gaps in pay, land rights and inheritance laws and customs). Furthermore, there is a mismatch between increases in women’s economic participation or earnings and other expressions of empowerment, such as in decision-making and their relative participation in public and political life. Evidence shows a range of roles for men in women’s economic empowerment; from obstructive through ambivalent (or conflicted) to supportive. It highlights the importance of understanding contextual and cultural notions of gender and masculinity for economic change and gender-transformative poverty reduction.

Some experiences of engaging men in programmes for women’s economic empowerment, predominantly through microcredit, show positive outcomes in women’s psychological wellbeing, household relations and economic empowerment, even if evidence for the latter is more scarce. However, the significance of specific strategies for working with men is less well understood. There is a strong need to explore policy and programme responses that take into account men and gender relations within gender-transformative economic empowerment (or poverty reduction) at a far greater scale. There is also a related need for more research on men and masculinities in ‘power’, ‘at work’ and ‘in policy’, in order to unpack the relationship between gender equality and national and international models for economic development.

The chapter Poverty, work and employment from the report ‘Engendering Men: A Collaborative Review of Evidence on Men and Boys in Social Change and Gender Equality’ aims to trace evidence on recent trends in work and poverty amongst men and women, how policy and institutions have mediated these changes, the role of men and boys in economic empowerment strategies, as well as identifying evidence of what may work for transforming gender relations in the domains of work and poverty reduction. This EMERGE case study features Nijera Kori, a national social movement in Bangladesh that organises landless people to claim their rights and challenge the discrimination that constrains their agency and development. The study explores how and why men and women are working together for the gender equality objectives of this movement, and how these relate to wider economic justice goals.