Reconstructing masculinity? A qualitative evaluation of the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures interventions in urban informal settlements in South Africa

Cult Health Sex. 2015;17(2):208-22. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2014.966150. Epub 2014 Oct 22.


Evidence shows the importance of working with men to reduce intimate partner violence and HIV-risk. Two claims dominate this work. The first is that interventions 'reconstruct' masculinities--these new formations of masculinity exist in opposition to existing ones and are healthier for men and less harmful for women. The second is that to be successful, such interventions need to address men's exclusion from the economy. Using a qualitative longitudinal cohort study of young men who participated in a gender transformative and livelihood strengthening intervention, as well as dyadic interviews with men's main female partners, we explore these claims. Data suggests men saw some improvements in livelihoods and relationships. However, challenging social contexts, including high rates of unemployment, peer networks and a dominant youth masculinity, limited change. Rather than reconstructing masculinity, a more subtle shift was seen with men moving away from 'harmful' aspects of a dominant youth masculinity towards a form of masculinity whereby male power is buttressed by economic provision and attempting to form and support 'households'. Working with men on their livelihoods at an instrumental level encouraged participation in the intervention. Beyond encouragement, men's improving livelihoods afforded men the opportunity to materially demonstrate the social changes - in the form of shifts in masculinity--they were seeking to enact.

Keywords: HIV; IPV; economic; gender; livelihoods; men; structural; violence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Intimate Partner Violence / prevention & control*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Masculinity*
  • Poverty*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Sexual Partners
  • Social Environment*
  • South Africa
  • Urban Population
  • Young Adult