Differences in the way Nigerian men and women are socialised and valued, together with disparities in their abilities to access power, resources and key roles in society, create an imbalance of power within relationships, households, and communities between men and women. This Voices 4 Change study sought to better understand these dynamics, and their consequences, through examining masculinities, conflict and violence in four states in Nigeria: Borno; Kaduna; Lagos; and Rivers. It explores what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman; two sets of notions that are fundamentally linked. The study was conducted using focus group discussions and key informant interviews, and reveals important insights which have relevance across the researched states.
The report is split into six, in-depth sections covering: gender roles and norms, including the dominant and ideal notions of masculinity and femininity, and the realities therein; the role of masculinities in personal conflicts; the role of masculinities in household relations, and the link with violence against women and girls; masculinities, violence, and conflict at the scale of communities, including generational differences and peacebuilding; the impact of conflict on women and girls; and the role of institutions in challenging and reinforcing gender stereotypes and norms.
The report concludes that idealised notions of how men and women in Nigeria should be are root causes of conflict and integral factors in drawing men towards violence. Society pushes the idea that men should be breadwinners, to hold authority, power, money and influence, yet these expectations come with huge pressure which is only added to when set within the reality of a corrupt, unequal, and poverty-ridden social environment. Some institutions reinforce these notions, either by actively promoting the traditional norm, or, more passively, by failing to challenge it. At the extreme end of the spectrum, male dominated security forces and vigilante groups were seen as engaging in various forms of violence and human rights violations in addition to protecting communities.
The study found that attitudes toward such masculinity stereotypes vary according to generation and location, as does the link between masculinities and conflict and violence. Older men were sometimes seen as exploiting their power over resources for their own ends, while older men often spoke of their disrespect for younger people and the changing social dynamics. In general, men feel frustrated when injustice, inequality and corruption stops them fulfilling their roles as providers, which can manifest itself in violence as men seek alternative ways to assert authority and gain respect. In this way, men avoid being seen ‘as women’ but achieve the respect and status afforded to ‘men’, be it at the personal, household, or community level. Meanwhile, women are generally expected to be submissive and supportive. While attitudes appear to be slowly changing as more women enter the workforce and provide economically, this also has a negative impact on men’s self-esteem.
The authors argue that government, civil society, donors, community leaders, researchers, and all those with an interest in challenging these damaging norms should heed the evidence presented in the study by implementing the following recommendations.
- Analysis and Research: disaggregating data and gender analysis needs to be extended to include men and boys, and ensure this informs policy and programmes. Research must be inclusive, and involve community engagement practices in informing policy and programme development, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation.
- Programming: use monitoring and evaluation to ensure negative masculinities are not reinforced; initiate widespread awareness campaigns and education to challenge negative attitudes and behaviours; support and highlight male champions working toward gender equality and peace; address youth exclusion by building genuine inter-generational dialogues; reduce backlash against women’s empowerment by ensuring men’s marginalisation and material realities are also addressed; and value the expertise of women’s groups at all levels to engage effectively with men and boys.
- Policy: ensure policy does not reinforce gender norms, but do so while building a process of critical consciousness to deconstruct norms and build an ethical consensus that certain behaviours are simply not acceptable; use rhetoric to address real drivers of conflict, not to scapegoat those blamed by communities; review laws and policies that undermine gender equity, and implement those that promote equality of opportunity for women and men that acknowledge the connections between gender inequality, masculinities, violence against women and girls, conflict, and violence; tackle cultures of masculinity through increased and meaningful women’s participation; address and counter notions of victim blaming; and take action to prevent, investigate and punish human rights violations by security forces by institutionalising a zero tolerance approach which also provides support and services for survivors.