Something we forget to mention while talking about the SDGs: Men’s health

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 11.39.41This week’s blog comes from Zuzana Machová. Zuzana comes from Slovakia originally but has been studying Economics and Social and Political Sciences in Trinity College, Dublin over the last year. Zuzana worked with us throughout May focussing on the #SDGchallenge.

While researching more information on health and well-being for this month’s info pack, the gender gap in health issues, especially questions about men’s health, captured my attention. As, after a discussion in DP, we have decided not to include this particular topic into the info pack, men’s health seemed to be a good idea for another blog. Compared to the Millennium Development Goals, the new agenda for the SDGs has created more space for actions supporting men’s concerns. Nevertheless, I still think that it is not a subject we mention often enough while talking about the SDGs and especially health issues.

When I participated in some trainings and workshops on development issues I encountered quite often calls for gender-responsible policies. But which of these “gender-responsible policies” are targeting men’s needs? At that very moment, these words seem to me somewhat abstract and I had some difficulties to think of exact examples. But I guess I know why it took me a while to think of something. It’s because, at least for me, it is not obvious in every-day life which policies targeting men are needed in health sector. I’d say it’s not very often that I come across men’s voices pointing at specific health problems.

Can men be vulnerable? I always have to think about the Myth Busters show when they made people dive their hands in a jar filled with ice cubes. They found out that women lasted for a longer period than men. Maybe the better question is whether we can accept the image of vulnerable men? I also came across opinions that in development, goals targeting women are easier to achieve. Is it because women can inspire more compassion and donations? Or is it the image of masculinity that prevents men from opening up and talking about their health and mental issues? Even during my classes of economic development we talked a lot about women empowerment and we did not really explore health risks faced by underfed and unhealthy male workers.

Another key point is that health is a global issue and men can be disadvantaged in any country around the world. As an illustration, there is evidence that boys are less resilient to some synthetic toxins compared to girls in the same age. Men are less likely to consult their health problems. According to WHO, men’s life expectancy is shorter compared to women’s. They face higher risks from some types of cancer and heart diseases. They are at least 1.5 times more likely to die in traffic accidents. In 2012, 7.6% of male deaths versus 4% of female deaths were caused by alcohol abuse. Men are also less efficient in their stress coping strategies.

It’s interesting to see that the role attributed to men in modern societies is still brings them higher health risks, from men taking on more dangerous jobs to a greater risk-taking behavior. I came across an opinion that a male reaction to “impossibility of hyper-masculinity” depicted in media was rather close to feelings of anxiety (see below link to Ging’s research). Also, men confronted with “machismo” in media can feel quite insecure so they need to show in their environment how masculine they are.

In contrast, when I was looking for more information on body image and self-perception bias I found in one Irish research report that 71% of interviewed boys were satisfied with their body image compared to only 45% of girls. I’d say the fact that men seem to be usually more confident about their image may distract our attention from their mental and well-being discomfort. For example Brené Brown, research professor on masculinity and related issues, claims that feelings of “shame” could disable men from communicating and sharing who they really are with others. The problem is that we do not usually see that courage can also be the ability to admit the feelings of shame that a man does not correspond to the ideal male behavior. 

I’d say that men’s health is a complicated issue but also a great opportunity to act. Maybe, especially this month’s #SDGchallenge, the Health Olympics, may inspire you to invite your male colleagues and friends to talk openly about what concerns them in each of the 8 aspects influencing their health and well-being and how they think they could improve it.

For more information:

WHO explaining gender gap:

Article on boys’ physical disadvantage for their health (such as a greater vulnerability to some toxins) :

Report of a survey on Young People’s Body Image, 2012:

Debbie Ging: A ‘Manual on Masculinity’? The consumption and use of mediated images of masculinity among teenage boys in Ireland, 2005:

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