Real Man Challenge safety

Transforming perceptions of masculinity to prevent violence against women

The Real Man Challenge is a mobile messaging campaign that engages men with an aspirational and positive masculine identity to prevent intimate partner violence. It sends WhatsApp messages to men who have opted in to practice positive behaviors with their partners.
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Real Man Challenge is at the Rigorous Evaluation stage

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Real Man Challenge

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The Real Man Challenge is a mobile messaging campaign that engages men with an aspirational and positive masculine identity to prevent intimate partner violence. It sends WhatsApp messages to men...

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Globally, 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner. Humanitarian disasters leave affected populations with severe post-conflict trauma resulting in mental health issues, high rates of poverty and reinforced gender inequality. Under these circumstances, intimate partner violence–or violence caused by a current or former partner or spouse–becomes systemic and pervasive.

Most research studies on intimate partner violence (IPV) have addressed ways to respond to violence and to support survivors AFTER violence has already occured; fewer focus on prevention, which is key to reducing and maintaining low levels of violence.  Building on the recent communications boom in sub-saharan Africa, as well as a global shift in dialogue about masculinity and a positive trend towards gender equality, the IRC’s Airbel Impact Lab and Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) teamed up to create a virtual, low-cost intervention that promotes healthy masculinities and reduces men´s use of violence against women: The Real Man Challenge.

The Real Man Challenge (RMC) is a 30 day Whatsapp challenge that gives groups of men exclusive access to easy-to-try tips for better communication, better sex, better finances and a better home life. By harnessing the power of communication technology like SMS and WhatsApp, the Real Man Challenge can provide bite-size, engaging content on a daily basis that challenges harmful gender norms that have been shown to lead to violence. The challenge prompts men to practice behaviorally-informed skills that can increase communication, understanding, the importance of sexual consent, shared decision making, and emotional regulation. Real Man Challenge presents multiple identities that participants can relate to, each aligning to one or more of the skills mentioned and emphasizes the importance of respectful and healthy relationships.

 

How does it work?

The Real Man Challenge (RMC), is a digital challenge-based program delivered by a trusted male host from the community to a group of 10-15 men from his personal network through WhatsApp. Over the course of 30 days, the host shares daily behavioral and skill-building challenges on relationships and household life with the aim of both improving relationship dynamics and reducing violence. Many of the challenges also involve group members’ romantic partners. In addition, the hosts share and moderate group discussions on relevant current events to spur new thinking on gender roles.

During the 30-day-challenge, men will gain useful tools, a support network of men they can turn to, and easy to apply tips, giving them a clear path to positive results at home. Each host shares 2-3 messages every day with his group, as well as open-ended questions and multimedia content to promote further engagement. The WhatsApp intervention goes beyond sharing information by engaging groups of male peers in behavioral challenges and conversations on harmful gender norms that have been shown to lead to violence.

 

Our vision

The strategies and methods developed by the Real Man Challenge incorporate human-centered design, field-wide “best practices,” and research on effective behavior change across a range of outcomes. Through a series of iterative prototyping and programmatic tests, these concepts will be tailored to fit the Latin American context and encourage participation. While this virtual approach to producing behavioral change is well-suited for countries in which the COVID-19 pandemic requires strict measures of social distancing, it is also extremely relevant to a post-COVID world. This project will develop a model that can reach large numbers of men at a modest cost.

March 2021 | Real Man Challenges adapts for Peru in collaboration with IPA and the Peruvian Ministry of Women

The aim is to use commonly-available mobile platforms, such as WhatsApp, to deliver content on healthy masculinity to 200 men in Peru and conduct a rigorous evaluation to measure the impact on changes of attitudes and behaviors associated with violence against women. The evaluation will be complete by the end of 2021.

October 2019 | End of second pilot in Uganda

A total of 60 men were recruited from various bars, Facebook, WhatsApp groups and sports lounges. Our findings from the pilot include:

  • When men opened up, it created a domino effect of honest conversation in a safe space.
  • Using real examples or even celebrity news to discuss relevant topics is more engaging than open ended questions.
  • Everyone can connect and give their opinions.
  • Men were eager to hear from experts, and wanted more content from them
  • Men added 30 - 40% of the content themselves through conversational back-and-forth about topics we gave them or shared examples from their own lives - which almost always resulted in more conversation.
  • When men carried the conversation on their own without prompts, the most in depth conversation occurred - one result of this was each group condemning violence on their own
  • Men said that conversation around culture versus the RMC view pointed out where they had bought into negative beliefs or behaviors. 
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September 2019 | Second pilot of the Real Man Challenge in Uganda begins

Improvements and updates in the program design since the first pilot of Real Man Challenge include: 

  • We developed a moderator training and Safety Monitor Guide so our monitor understood the process and goals behind our challenge, as well as the safety concerns they were looking to tackle.
  • We invited a sex and violence expert to help our moderators in real time when issues came up in their chats.
  • We edited our content to elicit more interaction - asking more questions, and including more opportunities for back and forth conversation, sharing and storytelling.
  • We included more direct content around taboo subjects, tackling sex, anger and other issues more head on, and including short audio messages from experts around finance, sex and communication to share with our groups.
  • Men in past conversations were hesitant to interact honestly because they didn’t know each other - we looked to establish authenticity and openness early on through creating a safe space, and calling out quick wins

July 2019 | Impact Evaluation of Modern Man in Liberia completed

  • SMS challenges were delivered to 596 men over 30 days. The recruitment experience resulted in exceptionally high levels of engagement for a simple SMS program: 55% of participants completed at least one challenge with 38% of men completing at least 5 challenges. 
  • The program was evaluated using a small cluster randomized trial of 391 men and their female partners in 16 communities. Results on violence outcomes were inconclusive as funding and design challenges limited power to detect anything but large effects; however, there were significant reductions in women’s attitudes justifying violence (38% reduction relative to control mean or 0.3 control standard deviations) as well as improvements in men’s ability to self-regulate (0.2 control standard deviations). Encouragingly, effects were stronger among the subset of men who engaged with the program more frequently.
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June 2019 | Real Man Challenge prototype is launched in Uganda

Using preliminary findings from Liberia, we revamp messaging and refine the prototype to develop a new iteration of the Modern Man Challenge that shifts focus from individuals to group messaging. SMS messages developed for Modern Man are adapted for WhatsApp to support social interaction and group accountability, and the Modern Man Challenge is rebranded as the Real Man Challenge. 

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October 2018 | Airbel and IPA Liberia launch impact evaluationin in Monrovia, Liberia

The impact evaluation will be conducted with 600 men.

February 2018 | Airbel and IPA receive funding to conduct impact evaluation

The team refines messaging and begins preparation for an RCT launch in the fall.

September 2017 | 30-day Challenge pilot in Monrovia, Liberia

Airbel and IPA Liberia pilot Modern Man with 116 men in Monrovia.

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June 2017 | Prototype Modern Man messaging in Liberia

Airbel and IPA Liberia prototype the Modern Man quiz in bars and coffee shops to test whether the overall messaging engages men. Men who take this quiz are also eligible to opt into the 30-day Challenge.

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May 2017 | Developed messaging for the 30-day Modern Man Challenge

Airbel partners with the Behavioral Insights Team to develop SMS messages that will be sent throughout the 30-day challenge. Designed to be both fun and thought-provoking, these messages cover sexual consent, anger management, financial planning, and household responsibilities.

The Airbel Impact Lab at IRC is a team of researchers, strategists and innovators committed to the accelerated design, rigorous evaluation and cost-effective scaling of the most impactful solutions supporting people affected by crisis.