Why more boys are standing up for girls’ rights in Latin America

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Reading Time: 4 minutes

5 boys smiling near a window

What does it mean to be a man?

Well, in many parts of Latin America, boys are taught from a young age that being a man means being strong, dominant, macho – even aggressive.

Unfortunately, this traditional stereotype of manliness prevails in many communities, and often negatively impacts the lives of girls and women by contributing to discrimination, and in some cases, violence.

Guatemala, Nicaragua and Brazil are among the Latin American countries with high rates of sexual and physical violence against girls and women. With your generous support, Plan International is working directly with boys in these countries to challenge existing gender stereotypes, and help shape a future generation of men who uphold and respect girls’ and women’s rights in order to create a just and equal world for all!

Challenging perceptions in Guatemala


“The macho culture is a huge problem in Guatemala,” says 20-year-old Marielos, a Plan International youth leader. “You notice it everywhere when you are young. Machismo makes parents value their daughters less than their sons and it makes them not want to pay for girls’ education.”

Because Guatemala has some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in Latin America along with a history of violence against girls and women,  Plan International is working with boys in Guatemala to challenge mainstream attitudes towards girls and women through our Champions of Change program, which encourages boys and young men to gather and discuss gender stereotypes, masculinity roles and violence against girls.

“I used to make my 11-year-old sister do everything for me when we were at home. If she didn’t, I would hit her,” says 14-year-old Elido, one of the many boys participating in the program “Now I realize that it’s totally wrong and, as a man, I should help out my mother and my sister.”

Today, nearly 3,000 boys and girls across Latin America have been encouraged to challenge harmful gender norms at home and in school, thanks to Champions of Change.

Speaking out against sexual violence in Nicaragua


Nicaragua has one of the highest rates of sexual violence against girls in the world, and in the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCN), the rates of sexual violence are among the highest in the entire country.

Through Plan International’s Girl Power Project , a youth-led initiative that engages girls and boys in promoting gender equality, boys in RACCN are working together to stand up for girls’ rights – even if it means being ridiculed.

“When the girls became agents of change in the community, they faced a lot of resistance and bullying from their peers.” says Harly, 19, adding that he experienced similar discrimination after joining the project.

“When people would ask me: ‘Why are you doing this?’ ‘Why are you always with so many girls?’ ‘Are you gay or something?’ I always gave the same answer: ‘I am doing this to help you guys.’ And I’ve found talking to people can make such a big difference.”

Determined to turn things around for his community, Harly and other youth are rallying together to educate boys and men in RACCN on the consequences of violence.

“I do not believe in violence of any kind and I’ve always been keen to show others why this behaviour is wrong,” says Harly.

Saying “no” to machismo in Brazil


In Brazil, violence is a part of everyday life for many youth in urban areas. Girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. In fact, in 2014, over 47,000 rapes were reported to police, according to the Brazilian Forum for Public Security.

But the time for change is now, and that’s why boys in Brazil are standing up for gender equality and breaking down the attitudes that cause violence against girls and women, as part of Plan International’s Goals for Peace Project.

“I’ve witnessed violence between couples fuelled by alcohol, and it’s hard to intervene. I don’t know what these men are capable of, but I know we can support those girls who are in need,” says Taniel, 18, who is encouraging others to say “no” to violence, thanks to the project.

Taniel and over 300 other youth are learning about gender equality, and together, they are proudly standing up for safe, peaceful and just societies for all.

“Regardless of colour, race, gender or religion, we are one. That’s what I’ve learned from Plan International,” says Clibson, 15, another boy benefitting from the project.

Help create meaningful change for boys and girls

Men and boys, just like women and girls, are held back by restrictive gender stereotypes that define their roles, behaviour, and beliefs.

But imagine the possibilities of living in a world where everyone could enjoy the same rights and freedoms regardless of their gender – that’s the kind of world Plan International’s Because I am a Girl initiative is working to create, and we can’t do it without your support.

Learn more about our work to advance equality for girls!