Men as perpetrators and victims of armed conflicts: Innovative projects aimed at overcoming male violence

Rita Schäfer


A more detailed analysis of various diverging war experiences of boys, male adolescents and men is essential for development cooperation in post-war societies and must be taken into consideration for project planning and implementation. Differentiated gender perspectives are required in order to put an end to tolerated, widespread gender-specific and sexualized violence. In addition, violence among male youth and men is a threat to often very fragile peacebuilding processes. Many of them were ex-combatants or soldiers and most of them face an uncertain future and unemployment after their release.

This study outlines the formation of the male identity before and after wars, thereby also touching on the problem of child soldiers. On the basis of country studies, projects and programs are presented that have contributed to changes in behaviour and attitudes among boys, adolescents and men after wars or armed conflicts. The research focuses on innovative approaches from African countries but examples from other continents are also presented.

The study examines projects for education and awareness raising on masculine gender identity, sexuality, fatherhood and health. Noteworthy are also the cultural, media and sports programs for community building among youth. The powers of traditional, religious and local authorities are expounded through examples, as they can promote or interfere with change processes.

Key recommendations:

  • Demobilization and re-integration programs should be oriented towards the problems and priorities of ex-combatants; masculinity shaped by war and the “feminization” of men and boys through sexualized violence (ex-combatants are often perpetrator and victim) must be tackled in a culturally-sensitively manner.
  • It is important to change legal, political and institutional frameworks. That includes legal and legislative reforms as well as their implementation in everyday life, also in rural areas. Moreover, security sector reforms should be oriented towards the systematic fight against corruption, the professionalization and gender sensitizing of the police and justice system. Prosecution of perpetrators and prevention programs against gender-specific forms of violence should be intertwined. In addition, continuous gender trainings dealing with the formation of male identity and options for change are necessary. State institutions and media can help to reduce the acceptance of violence and change gender norms.
  • Institutional structural changes should include healthcare facilities and schools. Improvements of schools, the continuous education of personnel are urgently needed in many places. The training of teachers should include gender guidelines, objectives for child and youth promotion, zero tolerance policies against sexual assault of female pupils, and measures against violence in schools. The implementation of reproductive rights, protection from HIV infections and the overcoming of homophobia should also be objectives.
  • Peer group work for attitude and behaviour change plays a central role for the work with boys and adolescents. Puberty should be seen as an opportunity rather than as a problematic phase in life. Violence legitimations and gender stereotypes can be overcome. Peer group work can be combined with other transformation approaches in the framework of multi-sectoral concepts, in particular those that speak of men as agents of change.
  • Teachers, religious or traditional authorities and locally recognized men can strengthen or overcome gender stereotypes and legitimizations of violence. Therefore they should be included when drafting corresponding transformation strategies. Their gender stereotypes must be overcome and their readiness for the transformation of gender attributions in institutions and organizations must be improved. Employees in media as well should be aware of their responsibility for gender attributions and should avoid stereotyping.


Rita Schäfer (2013). Men as perpetrators and victims of armed conflicts: Innovative projects aimed at overcoming male violence. Vienna: Vienna Institute for International Dialogue and Cooperation (VIDC).