This paper reviews the issues relating to compliance and participation among the men and women of three countries within the remit of the African Programme for the Control of Onchocerciasis (APOC): Cameroon, Nigeria and Tanzania. Project-monitoring data from 109 focus-group discussions, 6069 household-survey respondents and 89 interviews with ivermectin distributors were analysed to gain an insight into the attitudes and behaviours of men and women in relation to ivermectin treatment and their participation in the programme. Although there are no statistically significant gender differences in coverages for ivermectin treatment, culturally prescribed gender relationships influence the ways in which men and women express and experience treatment-related behaviours. Gender roles also affect participation in the programme. Decision-making in communities on the selection of distributors tends to follow socio-cultural hierarchies based upon patriarchy and gerontocracy. Relatively few ivermectin distributors (21%) are women. Although they receive less support than their male counterparts, the female distributors are just as willing to continue ivermectin distribution in the community, and they perform as well or better than men in this regard. The terms 'community-directed', 'community participation' and even 'compliance' obfuscate important gender differences that are inherent in the implementation of onchocerciasis control. Development of strategies that recognize these gender differences will have important implications for long-term adherence to treatment and for the overall quality and sustainability of the programme.