Speaking Man to Man: Challenging Machismo to Advance Gender Equality

The prevalence of violence in Mexico has received a great deal of attention over the years, especially violence associated with organized crime and drug cartels. This is much-needed scrutiny for crimes that are rarely prosecuted, but which have a profound effect on the country’s social fabric. Violence against women, however, has only recently begun to receive attention. Given that Mexico sees seven gender-related killings every day, shining a light on these crimes is long overdue. GENDES: Gender and Development is a Mexico City nonprofit that has fought for more than a decade for gender equality and for the elimination of violence against women. A focus for much of its work has been addressing the link between men’s beliefs about gender and the violent acts that often lead to femicide, such as the fighting that occurs between young couples and domestic violence in families. Notably, the organization’s attention has been on the roles men play in their relationships and how, through self-reflection and peer support, they can transform their perceptions of themselves and of women. We recently had an opportunity to speak with Ricardo AyllĂłn, Coordinator of Methodology at GENDES, to learn more about the organization’s efforts not only to impact individual boys and men, but also to lead a national dialogue on masculinity in Mexican society, especially as it relates to violence against women and gender inequality.
The founding team of GENDES

What was the genesis of the work you do at GENDES?

We’ve been doing this work for over 15 years, promoting gender equality and intervening with boys, men, and communities. Our original intent was to focus on the violence men perpetrate in couples and families, but we soon realized that we would also have to look at the idea of masculinity. We look at themes of personal responsibility, men’s health, male sexuality…in essence, we are inspiring cultural change around ideas of gender and masculinity. We are particularly interested in how boys are raised and their formation into adulthood.

What inspired you to work in the area of gender equality?

Three of us launched GENDES: Mauro Vargas, managing director; Antonio Ramirez, co-founder and the creator of the intervention model we use; and me. All three of us were exposed to and studied feminism in college, and each of us, in our own way, came to realize that we as men bore the responsibility for gender inequality. We came to see that we were the ones who had to come up with the solutions, and we wanted to share what we learned with boys and young men.
GENDES’ managing director, Mauro Vargas

What is the essence of your work?

GENDES specializes in connecting with men and boys through processes of reflection, intervention, research, and advocacy. Our work emphasizes an examination of what we call “masculinities” and how they intersect with human rights. Ultimately, we want to promote and strengthen egalitarian relationships that contribute to social development and non-violent practices for men in Latin America. This includes addressing both personal growth and larger forces, such as public policies at all levels of government. At GENDES, we provide interventions where men take a critical look at the construction of gender, with an eye towards promoting equality, nonviolence, and just societies for all people. We provide therapeutic services for those who have been violent towards women, but we also spend a lot of time on prevention. We work with young men and boys, because we know that the formative years are when men develop their perspectives on masculinity and gender. We work with individuals, with groups, and with communities. We offer many courses and workshops, as well as a number of free publications. All of these examine a range of topics that relate to manhood and gender roles: the construction of masculine identity, men’s health, reproductive health, parenthood, money, sexual diversity, social justice, and many others.

What are the main achievements of GENDES?

There are many. At the request of government officials, we launched pilot programs several years ago in several states, including Guanajuato and Jalisco, to prevent and provide services for perpetrators of violence against women, which have been very successful. The offerings and methodology of these programs were built from the ground up, based on our own research of best practices. It was very gratifying to witness the impact of these programs. On a personal level, what is really inspiring is when we see participants engage in our program and, after spending time learning, growing, and changing, they turn around and become service providers at GENDES, teachers, and advocates for gender equality in their communities. When we see that, we know what we are doing is making a difference.

How can we support your work?

I think the most important thing anyone can do is to advocate for programs that directly impact boys and men. Men are the perpetrators of violence against women, and we cannot stop the violence until men change their notions of machismo, control, dominance, and other stereotypes of masculinity. We must persevere until men to have the tools to see their identity in a new way and avoid perpetrating and perpetuating violence against women. It is our responsibility as men to change the course and promote equality that benefits everyone in society.
To learn more about the important work being done by GENDES, visit its website, where you can also make a donation and link to its social networks. The site also offers, free of charge, multiple publications and guides on addressing violence and re-envisioning notions of male identity.