Magazine article Population Briefs

Promoting Gender Equity to Fight HIV

Magazine article Population Briefs

Promoting Gender Equity to Fight HIV

Article excerpt

Gender inequities can hinder women's and men's ability to protect themselves from HIV infection. The Population Council's Horizons Program sought to better understand gender inequities and their consequences, developing tools to measure gender-based power dynamics and designing and testing programs to reduce gender-based biases. Our research showed that it is possible to reduce gender-based biases and HIV risk when programs engage men in thinking critically about gender inequality; include interactive, small-group sessions and community-based activities; use the media to promote gender equity and HIV prevention; and reach men when their partners are pregnant.

Measuring gender equity

Horizons identified inequitable gender norms prevalent in study communities and determined whether they are correlated with negative HIV-related outcomes such as unprotected sex and STI symptoms. In Brazil, research by Horizons and partners revealed a prevailing version of masculinity characterized by limited male involvement in reproductive health and child care, a sense of male entitlement to sex, and tolerance of violence against women. A minority of more "gender-equitable" men were also described. Horizons studies in Ethiopia and India yielded similar results. These findings shaped the development of survey questions to assess the extent to which young men were "gender equitable."

Before Horizons researchers began their work, few studies had quantitatively measured change in attitudes about gender norms, and few scales were available to evaluate an intervention's effects on gender norms and high-risk sexual behaviors. Horizons developed and validated the Gender-equitable Men (GEM) scale, which includes items on women's and men's roles in domestic work and child care, sexuality and sexual relationships, reproductive health and disease prevention, violence, homophobia, and relations between men. The UNAIDS 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic describes the GEM scale as "a practical and reliable way to measure key beliefs and norms that contribute to gender equality."

Several Horizons studies showed significant correlations between support for inequitable gender norms and risk for HIV and other STIs. For example, young men in Brazil and India who held inequitable gender beliefs were significantly more likely than "more equitable" men to be physically or sexually abusive to a partner and report STI symptoms. Conversely, men in Ethiopia with gender-equitable attitudes were more likely to report healthy intimate-partner behaviors, such as discussing and using condoms and other contraceptives.

Increasing gender equity

Horizons research demonstrated the impact of engaging men in thinking critically about gender inequality. Studies in Brazil and India looked at interactive group education sessions for young men that used gender-equitable messages to promote safer sex and healthier relationships. …

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