Essential Considerations for Engaging Men and Boys for Improved Family Planning Outcomes

Posted by Maria Codina on October 3, 2018 at 11:54 am

The purpose of this document is to (1) increase understanding of the role that gender plays in family planning (FP) with a focus on men and boys, (2) articulate a framework for male engagement that incorporates the transformation of inequitable gender norms and dynamics while engaging men as users, supportive partners and agents of change and (3) provide examples of effective male engagement interventions that practitioners can incorporate into their FP programs. Annexes provide details on programmatic examples, key terminology and links to programmatic resources.

The primary intended audience of this document is USAIDa staff at missions and headquarters who plan, design, implement or support FP programs. Implementing partners, donors and stakeholders engaged in decision–making about program investments and strategic planning of FP programs may also find this document useful.


In 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development highlighted the significance of gender—the socially defined roles of men and women (Box 1)—and gender inequalities in reproductive health (RH). This emphasis led to programs that reached

men and boys, as well as women and girls, to address gender to achieve FP and RH outcomes.1 Since then, the majority of FP interventions that have worked with men and boys have tended to be “small-scale and short-term.”2 Nevertheless, these and other efforts have demonstrated that engaging men and boys in FP is critical to improving FP outcomes for men, boys, women and girls.

Male engagement in FP refers to the involvement of men and boys across life stages as a) clients/users, b) supportive partners and c) agents of change. The goal of male engagement goes beyond the mere inclusion of men and boys as program beneficiaries. Integral to FP programs that engage males is intentional attention to challenging unequal power dynamics and transforming harmful forms of masculinity (e.g., male control over decision-making) in order to improve men and women’s RH and contribute to gender equality outcomes. Specifically, engaging men and boys includes broader efforts to increase empathy and support for women’s rights and well-being and promote norms (e.g., equal access to educational opportunities for girls and boys) that lead to greater equality between males and females in their relationships, families and roles as parents and caregivers, while maintaining a focus on voluntarism and informed choice as a foundational principle of FP programs. Ultimately, this approach aims to improve FP and RH outcomes for men and women in cooperative ways that also protect and encourage women’s agency.

Throughout the life course, boys, young men and men have varying levels of FP knowledge and different RH needs. This document defines “men” as males 25 years and older who are more likely to be making life decisions about their expressed fertility desires, and have concerns about planning for their current or future families. “Young men” are defined as males 15-24 years old who are more likely to be forming ideas about sexual relationships and desired fertility.

They are also more likely to establish initial patterns of contraceptive behaviors. “Boys” are defined as males 14 years old and younger who need information to help them understand their bodies and to set a foundation for attitudes toward positive gender norms. It is understood, however, that not all men are planning families and that some adolescent boys and young men are involved in early marriages. Additionally, this document uses the terms “family planning” and “contraception” interchangeably with the understanding that programming should be tailored to the full range of motivations and needs of males as they navigate through different life stages.

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