By: Justine Stacey and Emma Saloranta
Today many countries around the world are celebrating Father’s Day. Fathers are role models for their children – but the notion of what it means to be a “good father”, or a “good man”, isn’t always a straightforward thing. In many countries, masculinity and fatherhood can be associated with toughness and hardness, and the primary care giver’s role is placed on mothers. However, there are organizations working on changing those notions, and changing the way we think about masculinity and fatherhood – and through this, trying to change gender norms and roles, and empower women and girls through partnerships with men and boys. After publishing a post on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Impatient Optimists blog, emphasizing the need for increased engagement of men in promoting gender equality, we were thrilled to come across organizations at the third Women Deliver Conference doing this exact work around the world, and running an international campaign promoting new notions of masculinity and fatherhood.
Appropriately named, MenCare is a global fatherhood campaign coordinated by two fantastic NGOs: Promundo, which is a 16-year-old Brazil-based initiative that works to engage men in gender equality, and Sonke Gender Justice, a 7-year-old organization based out of Cape Town, South Africa. The overarching goal of MenCare is to promote equitable, non-violent relationships between men, women, and children, and highlight the fact that participation of men in domestic work, maternal health, and as caregivers for children and partners for women is a necessary and largely overlooked aspect of achieving gender equality
Myself and fellow Girls’ Globe blogger Emma were lucky enough to have the opportunity to sit down with representatives from both Promundo and Sonke to discuss MenCare and its goals, projects, and global reach of the campaign.
Established in November 2011 in Washington, DC, MenCare is a relatively new initiative. Despite being under two years old, its programming is active in 16 countries and counting. MenCare works through local partners and NGOs in each respective country, providing a range of resources for engaging men as non-violent, communicative care givers, from training to technical assistance, to policy-making and research. Additionally, MenCare also has a fantastic and interactive website where individuals and communities can access valuable information and resources to initiate MenCare campaigns in their region, school, or workplace. As a result of its rapid growth and grassroots involvement, MenCare has gained support from UN Women and is discussing future plans with UNICEF in Latin America and UNFPA in Africa.
Jane Kato, a Global Co-Coordinator for Promundo, emphasized that both Promundo and Sonke consider themselves advocacy organizations that aim to spread awareness about the fact that working with men is complimentary to the efforts of empowering women and girls. Jane noted that when it comes to equality,
“One piece of the pie is to work with women, but we also have to work with the men, and changing masculinity, and what that means.”
Both Promundo and Sonke maintain strong relationships with women’s organizations around the world, and consider themselves feminist organizations. Wessel van der Berg, Integrated Project Manager at Sonke stated,
“Our goal is to transform gender and eventually transcend gender. We want to change the way many men perceive their roles in the home- this will have positive effects for women, girls, and the entire family unit.”
Gary Barker, founder and International Director of Promundo, explained that when he established the organization a decade ago, there was already a lot of discussion about the role of boys and men in the fight for women’s and girls’ empowerment, but not a lot of things actually being done. Promundo aimed to fill that gap, and since its inception, many other organizations have joined the ranks to bring in boys and men to promote gender equality. Fatherhood is a natural entry point into promoting men’s involvement in gender equality and women’s empowerment, which is the approach of the MenCare campaign. Both Promundo and Sonke implement their work through positive enforcement of men’s role as caregivers, fathers, husbands and partners, as Wessel noted that the belief in positivity is also highlighted in Sonke’s projects, including one titled “One Man Can”, which has led to the “My Dad Can” initiative that forms part of the MenCare campaign. Wessel says,
“We keep talking about ending violence and rape, but we need to start explaining what men can do. If you want to communicate change, you need to state action.”
‘One Man Can’ emphasizes positive actions in which men can partake in care-giving, communication, and family involvement.
MenCare may be a new initiative, but it is rapidly gaining ground and attention around the world. The fact that 16 countries have already initiated the campaign in 2 years also speaks volumes about the need for such work and willingness to include men and boys in gender equality work, as well as the success of the campaign’s implementation.
In order to achieve gender equality and a world where girls, boys, women and men are empowered and live fulfilling lives free of violence, we need to include all genders in the process of reducing barriers and increasing positive action. There is no better day than Father’s Day to celebrate and embrace new ideas of masculinity and fatherhood, and start a MenCare campaign in your own community! We can’t win the fight if we only invite half the team – and the impacts of empowering women and girls will result in positive changes in the lives of men and boys as well. It is both refreshing and exciting to see organizations like Promundo and Sonke combining forces to create such an important and necessary campaign, and Girls’ Globe is excited to continue to follow and support the work they do.
Happy Father’s Day to all dads around the world! For more inspiration, we recommend you watch “Marcio’s Story”, a powerful narrative about change and transformation.