Global Initiative to Support Parents (GISP) | Increased Father Involvement in Parenting Benefits All: Part One

“One of the greatest benefits that we could give to children is to have men engaged in early childhood development.”

Miguel Fontes, Founder and Executive Director, Promundo

June 14, 2024 – Fathers are important. Father-child relationships, in all communities and at all stages of life, have profound impacts on children that can last a lifetime, whether the influence is positive, negative, or non-existent. The involvement of fathers and caregivers has a significant effect on mothers and on men themselves.

A significant portion of the world’s population continues to believe that caregiving is a feminine quality and primarily the responsibility of women. In Brazil, where men’s involvement in caring for their children remains strongly linked to being providers, this belief holds strong. However, in recent years, men are increasingly embracing fatherhood more freely, following a process of reflection and transformation similar to what women have been practicing for years in relation to motherhood. For this reason, encouraging increased involvement of fathers in raising their children is a means of showing care and support for mothers as well.

Mothers frequently face overwhelming challenges in balancing child-rearing, work, and domestic responsibilities, a situation exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a study conducted by UN Women, 67 percent of mothers reported that their work was impacted due to their role as the primary caregiver for children under the age of 12. 

A Historical Context of Gender Norms

It is important to highlight that rigid cultural gender norms directly impact parental participation in children’s development. During the second half of the 20th century, women’s rights movements sparked critical discussions on gender studies, seeking to understand the roots of “male domination.” Simone de Beauvoir (1977) criticized the historical tendency of men to dominate the discourse on women’s issues, thereby marginalizing female voices and positioning themselves as the primary narrators of these discussions.

In the 1970s, liberal feminists, like Betty Friedan and the National Organization for Women, led significant efforts to secure equal access to resources and social opportunities for both women and men. They also encouraged women to pursue roles traditionally reserved for men. As a consequence, studies began to question how gender impacts the division of family roles in homes. According to Mackinnon (1979), achieving true gender equality and ending women’s oppression requires a radical transformation of masculinity.

Studies on masculinity began to intensify in academia during the 1970s, with significant contributions from researchers like Michael Kimmel and Pierre Bourdieu. However, the debate was not substantially expanded until the 1990s, particularly during the United Nations assemblies in Cairo and Beijing in 1995 and 1996, which addressed masculinity issues. These dialogues began to question the “ideal of masculinity,” which reaffirmed that men should occupy a place of power and mask their vulnerabilities (Irigaray, 1974). Later, scholars such as Raewyn Connell and Mara Viveros Vigoya studied alternative ways of exercising masculinity, especially considering the cultural diversity of other countries and the historical context of colonization.

Global Initiative to Support Parents (GISP) | Increased Father Involvement in Parenting Benefits All: Part One

A New Fatherhood

Like all cultural shifts, the consequences of this process are neither immediate nor uniformly experienced across the population. It appears that this emerging “new fatherhood” will coexist with more conservative views of what it means “to be a man” and “to be a dad” for many years. This idea is reinforced by findings from the Helping Dads Care survey (2019) in Brazil, which revealed that while the majority of Brazilian fathers report playing with children (83 percent), activities such as bathing children (55 percent) or cooking (46 percent) are much less common.

Promundo focuses on how conversations and interventions related to fatherhood can advance gender equity and transform gender norms. The growing discussion on fatherhood and “new masculinities” is also linked to a critical examination of inequalities, particularly those affecting women, the LGBTQ community, and Black people. Transforming social norms promotes social justice and enhances well-being for everyone.

“I had never stopped to think that it was very important to share these activities at home. I thought working outside the home was much more tiring…but when I made a list with my wife of what she does every day, I saw that I was being unfair. My duty now is to start changing this.” 

Father 3 from the evaluation of Program P in Salvador (SEMPRE)

By Luiza Tanuri, International Consultant (Promundo), Clarisse Republicano, Research Consultant (Promundo), Miguel Fontes, Executive Director (Promundo)

Promundo

Promundo, founded in 1997, works to advance gender equality, promote caregiving masculinity, reduce gender-based violence, ensure racial justice, and improve family well-being. As a global leader, Promundo conducts research on gender equality and masculinity cultural norms and implements gender-transformative programs. Furthermore, it promotes the benefits of involved fatherhood and shared decision-making during early childhood development. Promundo is a key partner of the Global Initiative to Support Parents and convenes the GISP Working group on Fatherhood. For more information visit https://promundo.org.br/.