Photo by Dayana Sabani
Photo by Dayana Sabani

“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 17, 2024 – In recent years, Promundo has dedicated itself to advancing gender equality by listening to fathers and male caregivers during self-reflection groups on fatherhood. In addition, Promundo provides training for professionals in the health, social assistance, and education sectors. The training aims to empower service providers to become advocates for a new perspective on masculinity, encouraging boys and men to recognize their own needs for care and embrace their roles as caregivers.

Program P: An Intervention Targeting Men in Caregiving

Promundo’s Program P is named after “padre” and “pai”, the words for father in Spanish and Portuguese. It is a direct and targeted response to the need for concrete strategies to engage men in active fatherhood, from prenatal care through delivery, childbirth, and their children’s early years. It was developed in partnership with Puntos de Encuentro in Nicaragua, CulturaSalud in Chile, and the Brazilian Ministry of Health. The program has three components: information and tools for health care providers, group activities for fathers and couples, and guidance for designing community campaigns. 

By successfully targeting men, primarily through the health sector, Program P engages fathers and their partners at a critical moment, usually during their partners’ pregnancies when they are more open to adopting new caregiving behaviors. More specifically, the program manual contains: 

Initially, some parents may encounter challenges when confronting disruptions to traditional gender norms. Since men tend to seek social validation among other men, it can be difficult at first to navigate the lack of support from other men in the family and community when attempting to take on caregiving roles. Therefore, it is important to establish support groups where insecurities and obstacles can be shared and addressed collectively.

For programs that seek to transform gender norms, below are some key points for success: 

“I had never told my son a story. I do not know how to read. I made up a story in my head and told it to my son. He liked (it).”

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

Addressing Violence Through Father Involvement in Positive Parenting 

With data from more than 40 countries, Promundo’s International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) shows the connection between witnessing or experiencing violence in the home and the use of violence outside the home. The data suggests that witnessing violence in early childhood can contribute to higher rates of participation in delinquent behaviors. In Brazil, findings from the report Isso aqui não é vida para você (“This is not the life for you”) indicate that exposure to urban violence before the age of 18 is strongly linked to violence during adulthood. IMAGES also shows how exposure to public violence, such as witnessing or being a victim of violence outside the home, can lead to higher rates of parental violence against children and men’s use of violence against women. 

Therefore, encouraging fathers to strengthen their emotional and caregiving bond with their children helps protect childhoods from adverse effects and promotes a safer society with better opportunities. When addressing violence, we must consider various forms, not just physical violence. Symbolic violence, for example, operates on the belief that a dominant discourse about someone is reinforced and legitimized by social relations themselves, according to Bourdieu (1998). In other words, when parents reinforce the idea that “being a man” involves the use of physical or symbolic violence to assert power within family dynamics, they risk instilling in their children, especially boys, the misconception that they must dominate others in their social relationships.

On the other hand, encouraging an upbringing centered on dialogue and care promotes nurturing relationships where children develop skills for resolving conflicts constructively and compassionately. Thus, children benefit from their parents’ increased involvement in their upbringing, and parents gain an opportunity to reevaluate the gender norms imposed on them. As parents intentionally foster an environment of care and affection, they also discover ways to prioritize their own mental and physical health. From the moment they learn they are going to be parents, a journey of self-care and personal growth begins.

While existing data do not point to one clear linear connection, studies highlight the need for a multifaceted approach to tackle these issues. For example, early childhood development programs should include parent training with a focus on reducing violence. Psychosocial support should be offered to children who are witnesses or survivors of violence, and school-based group education should be available. The IMAGES program also consistently shows, across different settings, that the involvement of a male caregiver in caregiving reduces boys’ exposure to violence in school and their communities. 

Similarly, our qualitative research has affirmed that the presence of positive male role models—such as coaches, pastors, teachers, positive male peers, fathers, and other family members—can serve as protective factors against young men joining armed groups, including gangs, in high-violence settings. While a male role model is clearly not the only factor that can prevent delinquency and violence, it has been consistently shown to be a positive factor. In Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, Promundo has continuously promoted the involvement of nonviolent fathers in caregiving as one of several strategies to prevent young men from joining gangs.

“I’ve already started trying to educate in a different way. Today, my son disobeyed me, and instead of hitting him, I grounded him and explained the reason. Before joining the group, when this happened, I ended up crashing straight away.”

Father 4 from the evaluation of Program P in Salvador (SEMPRE)

Wayãpi Fatherhoods

Wayãpi fatherhood workshop. Photo credit by Promundo
Wayãpi fatherhood workshop. Photo credit by Promundo

The exercise of paternity is not universal. It is important to consider all the multiple cultures around the world and understand that caregiving related to children can also be diverse. As an example, we can highlight the work published by Promundo in 2023 entitled “The Wayãpi Fatherhood,” whose main objectives were: 1) disseminating Wayãpi knowledge, especially with regard to early childhood care and the father’s role in this community; 2) creating a training process for health, social assistance, and education professionals who work with the Wayãpi community; 3) documenting traditional Wayãpi knowledge in a booklet to be distributed both physically and digitally, free of charge, to the Wayãpi community and others interested in their heritage, thereby preserving and valuing the traditional wisdom of this group; and 4) stimulating the production of similar works with other Brazilian indigenous communities, promoting the writing autonomy of indigenous researchers.

The collaborative writing process engaged six Wayãpi authors and researchers, facilitated by support from Promundo and the State University of Amapá. Multiple remote meetings were conducted to accommodate the internet access available to the Wayãpi researchers.

The illustrations featured in the document were also created and approved by the Wayãpi researchers, who carefully recorded what was written in the Wayãpi Fatherhood Booklet. Containing approximately 40 illustrations, the book reflects the Wayãpi tradition of richly illustrated materials. Therefore, the process of preparing and placing these illustrations was thoroughly deliberated among the researchers, with insights shared with both the Universidade do Estado do Amapá and Promundo.

As a result, the booklet on Wayãpi fatherhood was structured around the following themes:

The work with the Wayãpi people illustrates that engaging in reflective processes concerning fatherhood while upholding respect for cultural diversity and traditional communities is achievable. Therefore, it is essential to facilitate listening sessions involving local leaders, health care professionals, social assistance teams, and the community at large. These exchanges and dialogues have the potential to further ensure the well-being of children, fathers, and mothers across diverse cultural contexts.

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/.