Young Men and the Construction of Masculinity in Sub-Saharan Africa: Implications for HIV/AIDS, Conflict, and Violence (2005)

This working paper from the World Bank examines the role of gender for young men in Africa, particularly as it relates to HIV/AIDS, conflict, and violence. According to the paper, gender is increasingly used as an analytical framework in programme and policy development related to youth. In most such analyses, gender refers specifically and often exclusively to the disadvantages that women and girls face. The author states that a gender perspective and mainstream conceptualisation of gender have too often ignored the role of gender in the lives of men and boys. According to the authors, two of the most pressing social issues in Africa — conflict and post-conflict recovery, and HIV/AIDS — are directly related to how masculinities are socially constructed. The aim of this paper is to explore what a gender perspective means, as applied to young men in Africa, when focusing on conflict, violence, and HIV/AIDS. It explores the construction of manhood in Africa and argues for the application of a more sophisticated gender analysis that also includes men and boys. 

The authors carried out an extensive literature review and identified what they considered promising programmes applying a gender perspective to work with young men; they then carried out 50 informant interviews with staff working with young men in Botswana, Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda, and 23 focus group discussions and interviews with young men in Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda.

Throughout the report, the authors make references to alternative, non-violent versions of manhood; to elements of traditional socialisation in Africa that promote non-violence and more gender-equitable attitudes on the part of young men; and to forms of socialisation and social control that reduce the vulnerabilities of young men and reduce violence. Included in this section are examples of young men whose stories represent ways in which they can question and counter prevailing norms.

These stories and the emerging literature point to some of the following protective factors that promote gender equality, health-seeking or health-protective behaviours, and non-violence:

  • having a high degree of self-reflection and a space to rehearse new behaviours;
  • witnessing the impact of violence on their own families and constructed a positive lesson out of these experiences;
  • tapping into men’s sense of responsibility and positive engagement as fathers;
  • experiencing rites of passage and traditions that have served as positive forms of social control, and which have incorporated new information and ideals;
  • having family members that model more equitable or non-violent behaviours;
  • having employment and school enrollment, in the case of some forms of violence and conflict; and
  • organising community mobilisation around the vulnerabilities of young men.