Understanding Men and Masculinities: Towards Creating Egalitarian Gender Relations in Afghan Society


Munazza Ebtikar

December 2020

Executive Summary

This paper examines how Afghan men from diverse socio-economic, ethno-linguistic and age groups challenge and redefine masculinities in the face of socio-political and economic changes. Understanding diverse and shifting masculinities and the men who practice more equitable gender relations by departing from hegemonic masculinity can help to inform more effective gender-based initiatives.

This report is based on 5 men from diverse socio-economic statuses, ethno-linguistic backgrounds, and diverse age groups and locations in Afghanistan. These 5 case studies were chosen from 18 life history interviews conducted as part of the 2017 IMAGES survey by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU).

The 3 emerging themes among the 5 case studies are: (1) all case studies experienced gender relations that they describe as “positive” during their upbringing; (2) all case studies have an understanding of existing and changing social norms regarding gender; and (3) all case studies challenge and redefine established understandings of masculinities in Afghanistan. This paper demonstrates the ways in which masculinities are constructed, deconstructed, and change over time and space in different ways for different men.

Recommendations for further study

  1. Positive co-parenting in a child’s upbringing can have lasting effects on the way a boy and girl is socialised. There must be increased support for a fathers’ positive engagement with their child and shared burden of care by schools and practitioners. Civil society, the media, and religious groups can also promote responsible fatherhood by stressing that not only children and women, but men are also beneficiaries of fatherhood.

  2. Developing educational programmes on gender equity in schools and universities can explain the relevance of these topics for boys and men. These programmes must create a safe space to develop empathy, to talk about gender relations, intimacy, armed conflict and violence. They should also promote equality between genders, promote non-violent respectful relationships, and the difficulties that boys and men experience in the face of the current gender order in Afghanistan, especially in their assigned role of provider, protector, and decision-maker. Although this is complex, as some men have thrived in these circumstances, these complexities need to be examined, analysed, and discussed.

  3. The media plays a fundamental role in the ways masculinities and femininities are shaped. A comprehensive and culturally attuned communications plan must address the implications of hegemonic masculinity in the everyday lives of men in society. This way, both men and women can better re-evaluate and reflect on gender hierarchies and understand equity between genders as mutually beneficial. The media can also make visible the positive contributions of men within the domestic sphere, work-life balance for both genders, and identify, work with, and promote men who can become positive role models for boys.

  4. Local-level women’s activism, both globally and in Afghanistan, has made major advances through alliances with men. Women’s rights activists and women’s rights organisations should work alongside men in Afghanistan to establish more equal and less violent relationships between genders.

  5. Profiling positive men, or men who are supportive of women in their families, working environment and broader community and society, can inspire younger generations of men to follow them as role models and agents of change at the community and national level.