In much of the developing world, men retain significant authority over many aspects of family and community life. Without men, we don’t have healthy communities. Men frequently control decisions about access to resources that either limit – or expand – access to education, health and social support services for women and girls. Men may – or may not – adopt and model behaviors that safeguard their own health and the health of their partners. Peace Corps employs several strategies that engage men and boys to reduce gender inequalities and promote the health and well-being of women, men, and children. Specifically, Peace Corps responds in two distinctly different ways.
First, male and female Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) work with counterparts to organize a range of programs and events using evidence-based models such as GrassrootSoccer, Men as Partners , and clubs for in- and out-of-school youth. All of these approaches address male norms as they are forming by promoting healthy behaviors and respect for female peers while also calling attention to behavioral norms that are unhealthy.
Building leadership skills that demonstrate that strength does not require violence helps boys to develop a model for successful relationships and a positive and healthy future. Through mentoring, skills building, positive reinforcement, and advocacy, PCVs help men and boys confront negative stereotypes about what it is to be a man.
These male-focused activities are typically complemented by programs directly focused on women and girls. Hundreds of Volunteers in dozens of countries regularly organize “Girls Leading Our World” (GLOW) camps and similar activities that empower adolescent and young adult females to be conscious of and prepared to respond to male behaviors that may compromise their health and wellbeing. Increasingly, coeducational activities are developed to bring young men and women together in safe and secure settings to promote healthy gender norms as well as respect for the unique and valuable contributions that each can make to improved personal and community health.
Secondly, Peace Corps provides practical information and training to promote responsible behavior by all PCVs to support their own health and wellbeing. This training also emphasizes the extent to which Volunteers are role models for young people in their communities, and the responsibility that comes with this unique community standing. This pre- and in-service training reinforces the contextual risks PCVs need to be aware of to protect their own health such as excessive alcohol consumption or unprotected sex, and promotes a “zero tolerance” approach to any predatory sexual behaviors.
Promoting positive male role models helps all men and boys – and women and girls – live longer, happier, and healthier lives.