Being a man in Nigeria: perceptions and realities

Being a man in Nigeria: perceptions and realities

Understanding men’s attitudes and practices to family, community life and relationships is crucial to improving and encouraging more equitable relationships between men and women. This Voices 4 Change Landmark Research Report is a synthesis of five studies in Nigeria exploring how the culture of masculinity impacts on the way women are viewed and treated by men, and how women themselves regard the opposite sex. The studies include the quantitative and qualitative Nigerian Men and Gender Equality Surveys, and studies exploring the intersection of Nigerian masculinities and religion, the media, and conflict.

This report is the first of its kind to look at men and masculinities in Nigeria from different perspectives. More than 2,500 Nigerian men and women participated in the studies conducted in nine states, from all six geopolitical zones. This overview publication is split into six sections: what it means to be a man in Nigeria in terms of perception; the realities of being a man in Nigeria; factors influencing perceptions and behaviours; the impact negative masculinities have on men; efforts to promote gender equitable attitudes and practices; and finally conclusions and recommendations.

The report argues that when women and men equally participate in decision-making, leadership and other roles and responsibilities, and have equal access and opportunities in areas of life such as the home and community, then everyone benefits, including men themselves. The most significant conclusions drawn from this report are that:

  • Widely held ideas about masculinity and femininity are powerful “root causes” of gender inequality and violence against women in all its forms. A majority of respondents believed men should be tough and fearless, while both men and women generally regard women as being led by their emotions, thus making them weaker and more vulnerable than men. Additionally, these gender norms contribute to the high rates of low self-esteem, work-related stress, and alcohol abuse reported by men.
  • Traditional gender attitudes and behaviours may be changing in Nigeria, including in terms of household decision-making dynamics, and the role of women in contributing to the family economically. Both views are still predominantly skewed in favour of men, however.
  • Gender equitable and non-violent masculinities can bring important benefits to men and women alike, for example through healthier relationships, less stress, happier children, and future generations who reject violence against women and children in all forms.
  • Positive, non-violent role models and education for men and boys (as well as women and girls) help to ensure better gender equitable attitudes and behaviours. If these positive attitudes and behaviours are experienced and inculcated in childhood and young adulthood, they last into adult life with both family- and community-wide benefits.
  • Rigid gender stereotypes of men and women, reinforced by both men and women, can create individual tensions which find expression through negative social vices and interpersonal conflict and violence. Additionally, stereotyped views can appear contradictory, e.g. most men and women acknowledge women can be good leaders, yet both still display largely discriminatory views about women leaders.
  • An overwhelming majority of respondents reject harmful cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation, wife inheritance, harmful widowhood practices, and wife hospitality. Similarly, only around one-third agreed that early marriage is important, and almost all supported the education of girls. However, violence against women and girls is widely tolerated, and the prevalence of economic, emotional and physical intimate partner violence among participants is very high.
  • There are concrete examples of individuals and communities in all states trying to promote gender equitable masculinities and improve the relationship between women and men in the household and in the community. 

Finally, the report makes a number of recommendations split into three categories:

  • At the programme level, it is important to prioritise community-level awareness, including to: increase the capacity of and collaboration between educational, media, religious, and civil society organisations and institutions; promote positive masculinities within the educational system; expand and enhance work with young men that support gender equality; and promote women in leadership positions and as positive agents of change.
  • At the policy level, the government must reform policies and practices of both formal and informal institutions to promote and enforce gender-equitable behaviours; establish and implement monitoring and evaluations frameworks and tools to help mainstream masculinity into policies; and review laws that undermine gender equality.
  • At the research level, more research is required to unpack the specifics of gender norms in different religious, ethnic and regional contexts; to explore links between gender equitable attitudes and behaviours, stress, relationship satisfaction, community violence, alcohol abuse and childhood experience of violence; and to gain additional evidence where grey areas and contradictions exist, especially regarding acceptance and support for women’s leadership.

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