Why Does Fatherhood Matter? Introducing the MenCare Campaign

By Gary Barker

In November 2011, Promundo, Sonke Gender Justice and partners are introducing a new global campaign on engaging men as fathers and caregivers called MenCare.  Why the focus on fatherhood? Of all the topics discussed in engaging men in gender equality, the issue of men and caregiving remains conspicuously absent and underexplored – in particular who does the care work and domestic work, including who cares for children.

New data from the World Bank tells us that women now represent 40% of the global workforce (counting work outside the home). But we know that men are not doing 40% of the care for children and the domestic work. The fact that women continue to carry out more of the care work continues to keep them from acquiring the work and income that would make them equal to men. Indeed, women globally earn on average 22% less than men.

Furthermore, the links between men’s involvement in care work and violence against women and children have, similarly, been largely neglected. While the associations are complex and should not be oversimplified, numerous studies confirm that men who witness and experience violence growing up are more likely to use violence against children and women later in life. Conversely, research from the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) and other sources suggests that boys who experience a positive caregiving influence from men in the household are more likely to have gender-equitable attitudes, more likely to participate in care work and less likely to use violence against a female partner later on (Barker et al, 2011). Girls growing up in such households are also less likely to be subservient to men. While we have talked much of the intergenerational transmission of violence, we have talked much less of the intergenerational transmission of caregiving and gender equality.

The bottom line is that men’s participation in care work has not kept pace with women’s increased contribution to household income and their work outside the home, and that women’s income is still less than men’s even when they do similar kinds of and amounts of work. If the world is to advance on gender equality and if men – as individuals and collectively – are to be seen as taking gender equality seriously, men must take on their fair share of the costs, time and care work required in daily life, and at the same time more fully experience the benefits of having close, non-violent and caring relationships with others.

The MenCare campaign is framed with the assumption that the participation of men to a greater extent in caregiving, in their roles as fathers, in domestic work, in maternal health and in caregiving professions is a necessary and largely overlooked aspect of achieving gender equality. Furthermore, the campaign is framed with the belief, that men’s participation in caregiving in all these dimensions is positive for women, children, societies and men themselves. Caregiving provides a “positive hook” for promoting and reducing violence against women and children. It also provides an alternative identity for men that can serve to galvanize men’s participation in gender equality in ways that have yet to be fully realized.

Why do we think men will pay attention?   Because it’s in their own interest. Men’s participation in sensitive, non-violent ways in families and as caregivers is good for men themselves. Studies from the Global North have found that men who are more actively involved in caregiving live longer, and report lower rates of mental health and other health problems, including high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems.

Fatherhood is one of the few areas where men can immediately see that accepting and living gender equality is good for themselves.

We don’t believe that simply showing these benefits will lead men to stop using violence or to give up privilege. But it is a needed and strategic way forward, together with our ongoing efforts to engage men in ending violence against women.

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