What is gender synchronization and why is it critical? 1

Gender norms influence the health and well-being of women and men in fundamental ways, whether they support violence against women, lead individuals to take risks, or limit access to and use of essential reproductive health services.

Over the last 20 years, public health programs that address gender inequality have tended to focus on the transformation of gender norms with a targeted focus on either women and girls, or men and boys. Evidence of the impact of such interventions is robust, but what has been lacking from these single-sex approaches is the recognition that both men and women reinforce notions of femininity and masculinity and shape and perpetuate gender norms.

In 2010, the concept of gender synchronization was introduced as working with men and women, boys and girls, in an intentional and mutually reinforcing way, to challenge restrictive gender norms, catalyze the achievement of gender equality, and improve health. An initial review of programs and best practices funded by USAID was conducted by Margaret E. Greene and Doris Bartel in 2010 and updated in 2018. This report highlights the importance of gender synchronization and provides some recommendations for the implementation of such programs including the need for community involvement, male engagement, and the importance of evaluation in that space.

The Niger context and the importance of gender synchronized interventions

With both men and women expressing a desire for a large family and in a context where strong patriarchal norms limit women’s ability to access reproductive health services, social and behavior change interventions targeting men and women are critical to achieving the government’s ambitious family planning goals.

However, there is limited evidence and examples of best practices on how to best integrate male and female-focused interventions to promote women’s agency and foster open communication and truly collaborative decision-making among couples to increase uptake of family planning in the region.

To support the Government of Niger and its implementing partners, Breakthrough ACTION conducted a review of existing literature, expert interviews, and an analysis of two nationally representative cross-sectional surveys of women2 and men3 to provide concrete recommendations on how to implement gender synchronized interventions. Findings from this survey were discussed with representatives from the Ministry of Health and implementing partners in Niamey in October 2020 and will inform the design of the Costed Implementation Plan in the country.

Key recommendations and considerations for donors and policymakers

  • Develop a Theory of Change for Gender Synchronized interventions to better visualize the benefits of this approach as opposed to non-gender synchronized approaches.
  • Invest in the evaluation of gender synchronized interventions to build evidence on what works and the cost-effectiveness of doing so.
  • Align on indicators for monitoring gender synchronized interventions, with specific attention to early detection of possible unintended consequences.
  • Assess existing interventions focused on men or women for the potential to incorporate a gender synchronized approach, this could apply for instance to the Ecole des Maris (Husband’s Schools) program in Niger.
  • Elevate the importance of gender synchronization in family planning strategies.

The key recommendations and considerations for implementing partners are available in the full report and report summary.

1 Involving Everyone in Gender Equality by Synchronizing Gender Strategies

2 Camber survey of Nigerien women age 15–49, Hewlett funded, N=2,004

3 Camber survey of Nigerien men age 15–54, Transform/PHARE project, N=1,144