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Why work with men and boys?
Research shows that a father's Involvement in children’s upbringing often results in improvements in children’s educational performance.
Hailu is a father of three living in the northern city of Bahir Dar in Ethiopia. During a discussion on fatherhood and what it means to be a father, he opened up about his own experiences. “One thing I remember about my father is that he provided for his family and made sure that all our needs were met,” he said. “My father was a hardworking farmer and he wanted to make sure that his children have a better future. He raised us up to be respectable and was proud of our achievements.”
However, sadly, Hailu is not able to remember any warm moments with his father where he felt connected with him.
“My father was always emotionally distant. I would like to have a close relationship with my children starting from a young age, but I find it hard to relate to my children as I do not really know how to do it.”
-Hailu Father, Ethiopia
In many societies around the world, being a man is often equated with strength, dominance, discipline and being the breadwinner. There is a limited focus on men’s involvement in the day-to-day care of children or being connected to them. Social expectations of what it means to be a man and how a father relates to his children, or fails to do so, can have far-reaching consequences on children, both positive and negative.
A number of studies show the benefits of male involvement in parenting. There is increasing evidence that in contexts where men have little engagement in child-rearing, increasing their involvement as parents leads to a change in men’s behaviour and attitudes more generally. Research shows that fathers’ involvement in children’s upbringing often results in improvements in children’s educational performance. In addition, children are less likely to be violent or to become pregnant when teenagers. Their self- esteem grows and they have healthier relationships with the opposite sex.
Like Hailu, mentioned above, fathers in many communities around the world are increasingly showing a desire to be less distant and more involved in their children’s lives. However, they often lack the confidence or the skills to engage with children, especially when they are young.
It’s an art to be a father
Oak Foundation is funding programmes in several countries that aim to increase fathers’ confidence. Here are two examples:
A study conducted by Center Dardedze in Latvia in 2014 showed that men do not consider themselves as equal partners to women in parenting and raising children but rather as assistants to mothers. However, more than two- thirds of the fathers involved in the study admitted they want to spend more time with their children and develop non-violent skills to discipline their children. Interestingly, the fathers mentioned their partners as the main barrier to being more closely engaged with their children. Despite the increasing number of men who are interested in becoming more active in their children’s lives, there are still many men and women who believe that a man’s role is to earn an income for the family and that a woman’s role is to care for the children.
Based on the findings from the research in Latvia, Centre Dardedze and its partners developed a national media campaign entitled “It’s an art to be a father”, aimed at supporting men’s care giving and parenting roles. The campaign is currently implemented through television, radio, electronic media and the press and is estimated to have been viewed by about 82 per cent of the Latvian population.
In Uganda, the Responsible, Engaged and Loving (REAL) Fathers project, implemented by the Georgetown University Institute of Reproductive Health and Save the Children, brought fathers together to participate in regular mentoring sessions. The fathers began to spend more time with their children, laughing, playing and enjoying them and their children showed less fear toward them. Despite these benefits, this behaviour change among the men was often criticised by family members, peers and neighbours.
Often, when the men took on more care giving responsibilities in the household, they were ridiculed by their peers and in-laws and referred to as being “ruled over by the wife” or “becoming more of a woman and less of a man”. While some men chose to ignore these pressures, others found it difficult and reverted to their usual ways of relating to their children by keeping distance and becoming less involved. One father in Uganda expressed the neighbour’s reaction to his actions: “My neighbours were stunned seeing an adult man play with a child; I was being booed down but I ignored them. Spending time with my child is very important to me and I cherish it all the time.”
Supporting fathers to be dads
Families, communities and governments need to reinforce the idea that fathers have a key role in raising children and also support fathers to play their role in full. In many countries around the world, policies tend to reinforce the perception of fathers as income earners with limited days available when a child is born. Providing paternity leave for fathers is one way in which governments can support men to get involved in care- giving early on, and also help challenge the societal view that men do not need to be around during and after the birth of their children.
According to the State of the World’s Fathers report, “92 countries offer leave that can be taken by new fathers”, but millions working in the informal economy and on temporary contracts do not benefit from these leave arrangements. In addition, for those entitled to parental leave, the leave is less than three weeks in half of these 92 countries. This denies millions of children the benefits of building a relationship with their fathers from an early age.
Involving men in violence prevention
Globally, about one in ten girls under the age of 20 have experienced forced intercourse or other sexual acts, and one in three adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 have been victims of emotional, physical or sexual violence committed by their husbands or partners. Statistics repeatedly show that a large proportion of sexual violence against children is perpetrated by men. This does not mean that the vast majority of men are sexually abusing children nor supporting this action. However, while many men find these acts horrific, they rarely speak out against it.
Men and boys make up half of the population and play a significant role in shaping societal beliefs and views in private and public spaces. Men hold influential positions in society such as in business, the government, community and the media. They have a strong voice in shaping local and national discourse in the development and implementation of policies, in challenging social norms and perceptions towards children and in influencing decision-making both privately and in public.
Preventing the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children requires the active involvement of men, boys, women and girls. To break the cycle of violence across generations, men and boys need to be mobilised and supported to develop gender-equitable attitudes; take part in non-violent parenting; and be positive role models for the younger generation.
Through a group of partners in Switzerland, the Child Abuse Programme is supporting work that targets parents, young people (including army recruits) and school-aged children to develop positive gender attitudes and to challenge the socially accepted norm of violence against children. For example, manner.ch promotes gender equality through the “MenCare” programme in Switzerland; Fondation Santé Sexuelle Suisse promotes gender equality by teaching comprehensive sexuality education in schools and through an awareness and prevention campaign for young recruits in military training centres. In addition, the Association Education Familiale is strengthening the skills of early childhood professionals and parents of small children in sexuality education as a means to address and promote gender equality in childhood.
Oak Foundation’s Child Abuse Programme recognises men and boys as strong allies to address all forms of violence against children. It believes that engaging men more deliberately and consciously will help create non- violent and safe environments for children. Indeed, any vision of a world where children can develop a healthy sense of belonging, form positive and trusting relationships and grow in a safe and empowering environment must consider the place and role of both fathers and men.
The photographs have been provided by our partners and illustrate the importance of the role that fathers play in the lives of their children.
© Peter Vulchev / MenCare Bulgaria
Safeguarding Children Policy
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Oak Foundation commits its resources to address issues of global, social and environmental concern, particularly those that have a major impact on the lives of the disadvantaged. With offices in Europe, Africa, India and North America, we make grants to organisations in approximately 40 countries worldwide.