It’s 10am and in the community pre-school located in a remote hillside community in East Timor, a class for 4–5-year-oldsis in full swing. Domingos, the young voluntary teacher, pauses to hug and comfort a child that is upset, before starting the story-telling session. Outside, Araujo, father of Marito, waits patiently to take his son home. He tells us he's here because:
“I want my son to go to school to learn and play with his friends and I want my son to become smart.”
Things have changed here since we opened the pre-school, trained male teachers and initiated a Fathers’ Group says Aguida Freitas, Plan’s Early Childhood Development Advisor: men are now far more involved in the care of their young children.
Whatever the country, parents – both mums and dads - want the best for their children and want to do their best as parents. But as our research across 15 countries has shown, many fathers are not involved in the upbringing of their children.
Witnessing a strong, equal relationship between a father and his partner benefits both children and family.
In some cases, this is because they spend long hours working outside the home. In others, it is because they doubt their abilities to do more than provide for and protect their children – believing that women are ‘naturally’ more capable of childcare. But in many cases, the key reasons are societal expectations of how ‘good fathers’ should be, and the belief that childcare is ‘women’s work’ – each underpinned by gender norms and expectations.
However, research also shows that men enjoy and benefit from taking an active role in their children’s upbringing, and there can be huge benefits for all when a father is involved and engaged in his child’s life.
Fathers matter not because children need a male role model: they matter because they are just as capable of being a responsive, loving caregiver as a mother. And they matter both in the early years and as children grow up. Having a caring, involved father is also notably important for adolescents, and they can be a particularly useful ally to girls as they begin to navigate the wider world.
When a man is involved in the care and development of his children there are positive results for children’s health, learning, school achievement and emotional wellbeing, as well as the mother’s physical health and mental wellbeing, plus for the man himself – fathers who are involved in caring for their children are more likely to take care of their own health.
Paternal engagement also has a profound effect on children’s attitudes to gender equality and their building of relationships with others. Witnessing a strong, equal relationship between a father and his partner benefits both children and family.
Our approach to engaging fathers
Plan International is working across Asia, Africa and Latin America to promote men’s engagement in the care, learning and development of their children.
Our approach recognizes the importance of starting early. In Bolivia, we work with local health services to promote men’s engagement before the child is even born by supporting clubs for expectant mums and dads. In multiple countries in Asia, we’ve worked with pre-school teachers, and reviewed curriculums and reading materials to change the ways that these inform children’s expectations of what it means to be a father.
Our work recognizes that involved dads don’t just ‘help out,’ they share responsibility with their partners for providing love and care for their children - and they care for their partners too. In Uganda, we work in rural communities and camps for South Sudanese refugees implementing a successful parenting education and support program. This programme doesn’t just encourage dads to help out with domestic chores and childcare but also provides opportunities to reflect on the importance of the mum’s wellbeing, of strong couple relationships, shared decision-making, the prevention of domestic violence – and of how gender equitable relationships are beneficial for fathers.
Our programmes recognizes that ‘teaching’ men different ways of being fathers and partners is totally insufficient. Instead, we work to support and influence community-led changes in social norms and expectations about what good fatherhood means. Through our gender-transformative, maternal and child health programming supported by Promundo (a global leader in engaging men and boys in promoting gender equality and preventing violence), male involvement is promoted by engaging community and religious elders and leaders, facilitating supportive ‘daddies clubs’ to foster discussion and skills-sharing, and working with men’s partners to encourage involvement in the care and upbringing of their children where it otherwise might be blocked due to ingrained gender-roles.
Fathers for gender equality
An involved and engaged father can make a huge difference to child’s life, from birth right through to adulthood. As Plan International’s 2017 report on the linkages between Gender Inequality and Early Childhood Development explains, transforming gender norms and expectations in parenting also has a beneficial effect on family dynamics and relationships and influences how children learn gendered norms and attitudes - from the earliest age.
This Fathers’ Day, from East Timor to Bolivia, we commit to continuing to engage and support dads around the world, working with them so they help to bring up a new generation of girls and boys who are capable of forming respectful and equal relationships with each other, and advancing gender equality.