Engaging men in preventing domestic and family violence: Three 3-minute talks

1. How important is men’s participation in primary prevention activities and describe for us the theory that underpins this work?

Engaging men and boys is a key strategy for preventing the perpetration of domestic and family violence. In order to end domestic violence, and sexual violence, we must

  • Change the behaviour of those men and boys perpetrating it
  • Change the behaviour of those men and boys who condone or are complicit in other males’ violence, and
  • Change the social conditions that allow violence against women to continue.

There is a growing consensus among advocates, educators and practitioners that violence prevention efforts should include strategies aimed at men and boys. Prevention efforts should engage men and boys:

  • To lower their likelihood of perpetration;
  • To harness men’s positive influence on other boys and men, and
  • To address key drivers of domestic and sexual violence including traditional masculine norms of male dominance and entitlement

You asked about theory. The key theoretical insight here is that constructions of masculinity – the social norms associated with manhood, and the social organisation of men’s lives and relations – play a crucial role in shaping men’s violence against women. Putting it simplistically, masculinity is an important influence on men’s use of violence against women, and on other men’s tolerance for or condoning of this.

Primary prevention takes place before violence has occurred to stop initial perpetration or victimisation. It requires changing the social conditions that support and promote domestic and sexual violence.

One key aspect of primary prevention, therefore, is changing the social factors that produce and enable perpetrators. Men’s use of domestic violence is the unsurprising outcome of widespread social relations, the predictable result for example of:

  • The lessons about manhood many men have absorbed as they grow up;
  • The sexist peer cultures in which they participate, and
  • The gender inequalities woven into their and women’s everyday lives.

So we have to tackle these if we are to make men’s use of violence less likely in the first place.

2. What are some of the principles that underpin good practice and tips for success in engaging men and boys in prevention?

I know the ‘engaging men’ field very well. Most accounts of how to do the work share three emphases: a concern with sexism and gender inequalities, a concern with men’s and boys’ own wellbeing, and attention to differences and inequalities. We can think of these therefore in terms of three key principles:

1) Feminist: intended to transform gender inequalities

First, violence prevention efforts among men and boys must be feminist. They should

  • Be grounded in principles of gender justice;
  • Recognise society’s systemic gender inequalities, and
  • Seek to transform oppressive gender structures, norms, and practices.

(Aims) In practice, that means we need gender-transformative aims: The work must aim to transform gender inequalities. To challenge violent and patriarchal practices and norms. And encourage men and boys to develop equitable relations with women and girls and with each other.

(Content) The work should have feminist content – content that addresses the gendered drivers of violence.

(Processes) Prevention efforts among men and boys also require gender-transformative processes. Let’s involve boys and men in critical reflection on masculinities and gender, and foster their support for gender equality and non-violence.

(Structures) Finally, we need feminist structures. We must work in partnership with, and be accountable to, women and women’s groups.

2) Committed to enhancing boys’ and men’s lives

The second principle is that the work must be committed to enhancing boys’ and men’s lives.

We most recognise that while men and boys receive various forms of unearned privilege, they also pay important costs, to their health and relationships.

We should emphasise how men and boys will benefit from progress towards gender equality. We should recognise boys’ and men’s distinct needs.

We should use strengths-based approaches, building on men’s and boys’ existing commitments to and involvements in non-violence and equality.

3) Intersectional: addressing diversities and inequalities

Third, we must be intersectional: we must acknowledge and respond to diversities and inequalities among men and boys.

In practice, what does that mean?

  • First, with any population of men or boys, we must engage with their specific cultural and material conditions.
  • Second, we must address culturally specific risk and protective factors – local factors that feed into violence, and local factors that protect against it.
  • Third, violence prevention among men and boys must acknowledge both disadvantages and privileges, addressing multiple forms of social difference and inequality.

3. Can you outline 1- 2 examples of initiatives you have been involved with which successfully engaged men and how this was done?

I’m going to organise my examples in terms of four key challenges in working with men, and what to do about each.

  1. Bringing men in

The first challenge is bringing men in: getting men in the door.

So here I will mention the project Working Together with Men. The Working Together with Men project, based in Melbourne, was successful in recruiting a small group of men and and sustaining their long-term participation as violence prevention advocates.

First, we have to find men. Use accessible entry points: parenting programs, health services, sports, workplaces. Use personal and professional networks. Draw on ambassadors and role models, using men’s social networks and community links. Tap men on the shoulder, using tailored, individual conversations.

Then we have to sustain men’s involvement. Create new kinds of groups for mens. Make it enjoyable at least some of the time. And create opportunities for action.

  1. Educating men and boys

The second challenge is to educate men: to change hearts and minds. Here I’m going to focus on Manhood 2.0, a very well-designed curriculum for boys and young men.

Education programs must have robust and relevant content, addressing key risk factors. Manhood 2.0 combines three kinds of curricula

  1. Gender norms change: Addressing the rigid, sexist gender norms known to inform males’ perpetration of relationship and sexual violence
  2. Healthy sexuality skills: Addressing gender, power, and consent, fostering skills in healthy sexuality and relationships
  3. Bystander skills: Teaching skills in intervening in violent and inequitable behaviours

Effective violence prevention education programs have some other key characteristics.

  • They are interactive, participatory, and include small-group learning, critical reflection, and behavioural rehearsal.
  • Good practice programs have sufficient duration to make change. Programs ideally should have multiple sessions, at least four or five hours, ideally longer.
  1. Mobilising men

The third challenge is to mobilise men. There are very good examples of effective campaigns of community mobilisation, mainly from the global South: SASA! in Uganda, Men’s Action to Stop Violence Against Women in India, One Man Can in South Africa, and so on.

What are some key strategies for mobilising men?

  • Provide knowledge and skills in action
  • Support men in getting organised
    • Technical assistance, resources and sustainability, community meetings
    • Community Action Teams
  • Use consciousness-raising
  • Adopt gender-equitable processes for decision-making and leadership
  • Build communities of support.
  • Work in partnership with women’s rights and movements


Resources: For a wide range of resources on engaging men and boys in ending domestic, family, and sexual violence, see here. Michael’s book on engaging men in violence prevention is available, free in PDF, here.

Note: These notes were prepared for Dr Michael Flood’s participation in the Whittlesea Family Violence Network Forum (Victoria), on September 16 2021.

Citation: Flood, M. (2021). Engaging men in preventing domestic and family violence: Speaking notes. Whittlesea Family Violence Network Forum, September 16.