Elizabeth Doggett is an associate technical officer at FHI 360, where she works in the Research Utilization department on a portfolio of activities on preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, as well as activities on gender and health.

Youth-focused sexual and reproductive health (SRH) programming would greatly benefit from increased attention on gender inequality, because girls and boys are harmed by inequitable gender norms and relations. Girls, in particular, are vulnerable to some of the most egregious manifestations of gender inequality, including early marriage and various forms of gender-based violence (GBV). Gender inequality also limits girls’ access to education, recreation, and income-generation in many contexts. While gender inequality disproportionately harms girls, boys’ health and potential are also limited by expectations to be violent, aggressive, and to take sexual risks. Boys may experience GBV, too—especially when they do not live up to society’s expectations related to masculinity and heterosexuality.

However, youth may be uniquely open to thinking and behaving in more gender-equitable ways, which poses an opportunity for health programming. As part of an initiative to integrate gender into all our work—including youth SRH projects—FHI 360 recently led regional workshops in Africa and Asia to build staff’s capacity to design and implement programs to increase gender equality.

The workshops took place in Kenya in 2011 and in Thailand in 2012. “Gender focal points” from each of FHI 360’s country offices participated in the training. We shared common terms and definitions related to gender and sexuality; practiced conducting a gender analysis and designing, monitoring, and evaluating gender-integrated programs; and shared evidence-based best practices for promoting gender equality in development programs.

Image from FHI 360 gender workshop

One of the tools we introduced in the workshop that staff found most useful was the Gender Integration Continuum, which we adapted from the USAID Interagency Gender Working Group. The continuum encourages program staff to employ gender-aware approaches, meaning that programs consider the desired project outcomes related to gender norms and the status of girls/women and boys/men. The continuum also emphasizes that gender-aware projects should either work around and accommodate harmful gender norms or even seek to transform harmful norms and promote gender equality.

As noted above, youth SRH programs may be particularly well-suited for gender-transformative approaches, given that young people are at a time in their lives when they may be more willing to question gender norms and experiment with more equitable ideas, behaviors, and relationships. For example, we see the power of gender transformative approaches with young people in Program H, a program originally developed in Brazil and now considered a “gold standard” in the gender field. Program H engages with young men to critically question harmful gender norms, especially those related to sexuality and HIV prevention. The program’s evaluation found that participants adopted more gender-equitable attitudes. For instance, men were less likely after the intervention to agree that caring for children was only women’s responsibility. The participants’ sexual health also improved; for example, the percentage of participants reporting symptoms of sexually transmitted infections decreased 19-24 percentage points after one year in the program.

FHI 360’s youth programming is increasingly taking gender into account. For instance, the UJANA project, an HIV prevention program for youth in Tanzania, is undertaking an extensive set of GBV prevention activities, in recognition of the link between GBV and HIV. UJANA’s GBV prevention activities include peer education among youth, community mobilization, and mass media messaging about the harms of GBV. UJANA is also piloting an activity that links women’s income generation with GBV prevention, and an activity that works in schools to raise awareness of GBV among students, teachers, and staff.

FHI 360 is committed to expanding the pursuit of gender transformative programming, particularly among youth. By building our staff’s capacity to design, implement, and evaluate programs that challenge harmful gender norms and inequalities, FHI 360 will generate better and more sustainable outcomes for youth, increase the status of girls and women, and make relationships between girls and boys healthier.