Studying masculinity in Nigeria to improve gender equality

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.

TNS conducted a series of studies for the Voices 4 Change programme in Nigeria, which contributes to growing national and global interest in better understanding of men’s attitudes, by providing innovative research and evidence to support debate and policy change and guide effective programme intervention. The programme is funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

The report is a synthesis of five studies – four qualitative and one quantitative – 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.

Key findings of the studies, conducted in selected states in six geographical regions of Nigeria:


  • Traditional gender attitudes and behaviour may be changing in Nigeria as evidenced by responses garnered during the studies.
  • At the broadest level, widely held ideas about masculinity and femininity are powerful “root causes” of gender inequality and violence against women in all its forms.
  • Gender equitable and non-violent masculinities can bring important benefits to men and women alike, for example; better 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 ensure better gender equitable attitudes and behaviours. If these behaviours are inculcated in childhood and young adulthood, they last into adult life with family and possibly community-wide benefits.
  • Rigid gender stereotypes of men and women create individual tensions, which find expression through negative social vices and interpersonal conflict and violence. 


Perceptions of men’s and women’s behaviour:

  • The majority of respondents in all five studies still believe men should be tough, intelligent, fearless and responsible – though women are largely regarded by men and women as being led by their emotions, making them weaker and more vulnerable than men.

Roles of men and women in the household:

  • Household decision-making dynamics are still often highly skewed in favour of men, but may gradually be changing.
  • Participants overwhelmingly stated that it is a man’s role to provide economically for the family. However, women’s increasing presence in the labour market is recognised as important for supporting their families and men in their role as providers.
  • Many men participate in household work which seems to be largely supported by participants and religious authorities. However, the tasks men report participating in the most are traditionally associated with male heads of household, such as paying bills and repairing the house.
  • Men’s involvement in parenting is still limited, but men with the most gender equitable attitudes reported contributing more. Women and men in the study agreed that most men tend to play with their children or discipline them on a regular basis, but not contribute consistently to childcare in other ways.

Traditional practices and violence against women:

  • Respondents in Nigeria overwhelmingly reject many traditional practices, including FGM, wife inheritance, harmful widowhood practices and wife hospitality. Similarly, only about one third of respondents agreed that early marriage “is important and should remain,” with women more likely to hold this view than men. The education of girls is almost universally supported.
  • Violence against women and girls is widely tolerated.


Over two thirds of all respondents agreed that “A woman should tolerate violence to keep her family together”.

  • The prevalence of economic, emotional and physical intimate partner violence among participants is very high. Men with the most gender-inequitable attitudes, older, informally employed and less educated men, were more likely to report perpetrating violence against a partner.


  • There are contradictions in the views about women as leaders and the tendency to view men as ‘natural’ leaders instead of women. Although most men (and women) believe that women can be equally effective leaders, male and female participants of group discussions displayed largely discriminatory views. For example, considering women too emotional to lead.

Factors influencing masculinities:

  • Both Islamic and Christian religious teachings support gender equity and justice, although in practice interpretations appear contradictory.
  • Dominant ideals of masculinity and femininity set standards that are difficult to reach, particularly in insecure environments that can engender violence, greater insecurity, economic decline, high unemployment, inequality and changed gender realities.
  • Nigerian media promotes stereotypical ideas of men and women.
  • Children raised in non-violent homes are more likely to be peaceful, compared to those who witness and experience physical, emotional and sexual violence in their homes and schools. Roughly three in four respondents report being threatened with physical punishment in their childhood homes.

Impacts of masculinities:

  • Men report high rates of low-self-esteem, work-related stress and alcohol abuse.
  • Widely held ideas about masculinity and femininity are powerful “root causes” of gender inequity and violence against women and in the community.

Practising and promoting gender equitable attitudes and behaviours:

  • 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.

Fore detailed findings and recommendations, view full report.
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