by Savanna Henderson, Humanitas Global
Roughly 80% of the world’s men and boys will become fathers during their lifetime. Nowhere in the world does men’s involvement in caregiving match that of women, in spite of women comprising 40% of the global workforce. Despite these immense figures, engaging men in caregiving and parenting has only recently begun its move to the forefront of development as a significant means to advance the global gender equity agenda. This focus has come in alongside one of the Millennium Development Goals to promote gender equality and empower women..
To highlight the significance of men’s contributions to caregiving and parenting to global gender equality and health, MenCare has released the first ever State of the World’s Fathers report. The report presents international research findings regarding the role of men in parenting and caregiving, along with program and policy recommendations to bring about a transformation toward equitable, involved fatherhood.
Child Development: Involved fatherhood contributes to children's well-being in the form of higher cognitive development, school achievement, better mental health and lower rates of delinquency. Studies have also found that fathers’ interaction is a key component in children’s development of empathy and social skills.
Gender Equality:Involved fathers’ contribute to gender equity and female empowerment, which moves forward through generations. By simply sharing in the caregiving and domestic work, men support women’s participation in the workforce and demonstrate to their sons and daughters the significance of women’s overall equality. While a seemingly easy task for men to adopt, it is rare to see men sharing equally in domestic and caregiving responsibilities.
Maternal and Child Health: When males are involved before, during and after birth of a child, both child and mother have better health behaviors and outcomes. Research has found that male involvement is associated with improved pre and post-natal care, maternal mental health, encouraging and supporting breastfeeding and immunization of children.
Reduction in Violence: Violence against women and children often co-occurs and research confirms men’s violence against female partners is often carried forward generationally. Research has found that more equal divisions of caregiving responsibilities is associated with lower rates of violence against children. In addition to contributing to gender equity and female empowerment, equal distribution of caregiving helps to break the cycle of violence.
In response to the current state of world fathers, the report provided recommendations for improvement such as creating both national and international plans to promote involved, non-violent fatherhood alongside men and boy’s sharing in domestic and caregiving responsibilities. Some organizations, like the World Food Programme, are paving the way by offering programs on child and maternal nutrition for men and boys in areas where girls and women often bear the responsibility alone.
An interesting finding from the report is that fathers around the world want to be involved in the lives of their children and would even work less if it meant they could spend more time with their children. The challenge, then, isn’t in changing attitudes about fatherhood but rather in enabling partners to create more equitable systems. Instituting equal, paid parental leave policies provides the opportunity for men to share equally in childcare while promoting equal participation in the workforce by men and women.
Another recommendation from the report discusses the need to transform social norms embedded in institutions to promote and allow men and boys to take a more active role as caregivers. Promotion of gender equity will contribute to overall improved well-being, livelihoods, health and food security. Currently, only 92 countries offer paternity leave while maternity leave is offered nearly everywhere. Offering paternity leave to new fathers is a strong action that would promote and transform gender equality in the home, workplace and society while also supporting men’s desire to be involved in and role in children’s health and development.
The State of the World’s Fathers’ shows that it is time to transform the vision and reality of men's role in fatherhood and in doing so, enable men, women and children to reach their full potential in all aspects of life. Men should have access to and encouraged to participate in the same opportunities women do to be involved in childcare. The role of fathers should be discussed as part of the agenda of everyone who desires gender equity, a reduction in violence towards women and children, economic development and the overall health of the world.