Indigenous Men’s Support Groups


Indigenous men’s support groups are designed to empower men to take greater control and responsibility for their health and wellbeing.T his example is relevant for countries working with Indigenous populations who are interested in empowerment interventions to improve health and wellbeing.


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Indigenous men’s support groups are designed to empower men to take greater control and responsibility for their health and wellbeing. The provide health education sessions, counselling, men’s health clinics, diversionary programs for men facing criminal charges, cultural activities, drug-and alcohol-free social events, and advocacy for resources. There is however extremely limited research describing how Indigenous empowerment interventions, including men’s and women’s groups, might be implemented effectively. Linked to this there has been little systematic evaluation or documentation of Indigenous men’s groups despite there being approximately 100 such groups across Australia.This paper addresses a gap in knowledge about their strategies and outcomes. It is based on participatory action research (PAR) involving two north Queensland groups which were the subject of a series of five ‘phased’ evaluative reports between 2002 and 2007.

Gender Responsiveness Assessment Scale (GRAS) and the elements of good practice for gender mainstreaming (GM) used


Both men’s groups were initially motivated by a perceived gender inequity with women. Many of the men believed that women dominated health services, were advantaged in family law, had shelters for respite from domestic violence, and did not always appreciate men’s efforts to contribute. However, values shifted over time, with some men now stating that they take a partnership approach to parenting and share housework. Men’s group leaders have also willingly collaborated with local women’s groups to rebuild family unity and take a stand against violence and abuse, and with non-Indigenous (including female) researchers to produce papers and reportsabout their work. They established clear ground rules so that female researchers men’s group meetings for men only. The empowerment framework and PAR reflective questioning have been importan tapproaches for addressing sensitive processes such as these.

The findings indicated that local Aboriginal men’s groups promoted social cohesion and worked to shift social norms towards respect, responsibility and improved wellbeing for men and their families. Findings from two studies recognised that men’s groups provided both a means for supporting men to cope with the pressures of their daily lives and for influencing underlying determinants of their health and wellbeing.

Self-reported benefits from the groups included improved social and emotional wellbeing, modest lifestyle modifications and willingness to change current notions of ‘gendered’ roles within the home, such as sharing housework. The findings to date suggest that through promoting empowerment, wellbeing and social cohesion for men and their families, men’s support groups may be saving costs through reduced expenditure on health care, welfare, and criminal justice costs, and higher earnings. However further research is needed to demonstrate the latter.


Potential challenges include: uptake of findings and translation into practice; and scaling up. In addition, men’s support groups faced complex and challenging social problems such as alcohol misuse, family violence, and unemployment with few levers or resources to make a difference e.g. the support groups don’t change the socioeconomic circumstances. The authors also note that men’s support groups should not be used to ‘pick up the pieces’ from inadequate or inappropriate government service.

Relevant to countries who are interested in

The specific idea of men’s or women’s support groups as part of gender mainstreaming, particularly to tackle stubborn issues such as gender based violence and alcohol misuse in communities that are significantly disadvantaged with have few opportunities to address the causes of health and gender based inequities. This includes gender mainstreaming activity to reach men or women who are being left behind because services are not available ,accessible and/or acceptable; and or for countries working with Indigenous populations.

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