1997 Global: Role of Men in the Lives of Children: A Study on How Improving Knowledge About Men in Families Helps Strengthen Programming for Children and Women
Author: Foumbi, J.; Lovich, R.; UNICEF NYHQ
This concept paper was developed as the background for a consultative meeting to begin a dialogue with interagency partners, NGOs and researchers. The best interests of the child are well served when both the mother and the father are involved in the caretaking, nurturing, and support of their children. The rights and wellbeing of the child are best served when relations between men and women in the household are based on mutual respect, equal rights and shared responsibilities. In line with this reflection, and taking into account its past experience, UNICEF must broaden its research and programme focus to include men and boys as important actors in programmes of cooperation.
Purpose / Objective
Its objectives are to clarify why organizations such as UNICEF should focus on men's involvement as a strategy to promote equality between women and men. We will explore problems that households are facing in a rapidly changing world, the challenges men in families are confronting and, ultimately, the impact of these on children.
The paper will also summarize the major issues emerging in the promotion of men's involvement, analyze benefits to child, family and community of programmes that foster positive involvement of men, examine some of UNICEF's initial experience in men-targeted programming. Based on this, it will highlight considerations for programme planning, monitoring and evaluation.
The background information gathered for this paper is from a variety of reports, documents and interviews with members of the interdivisional working group. The authors recognize that this is not a comprehensive review of the literature, and that there are certainly other UNICEF-supported projects not noted here that involve men in the process of achieving child rights and gender equality.
Key Findings and Conclusions
Men often do play unique and positive roles in the lives of children and can be persuaded to actively support efforts to reduce gender inequality. However, more work is needed to better understand the factors that influence the positive or the harmful behaviours of men and use this knowledge to rethink current child-related and GAD strategies.
Traditional households with the father as provider, and the mother as nurturer and care giver are increasingly giving way to less conventional relationships and roles within the family. However, many families are not coping well with these changes, and the conditions of women and children have worsened. Fortunately, strategies to help men and women adapt to their changing roles in ways that benefit children and foster gender equality are gradually emerging from studies and pilot experiences.
The socialization of children is a large determinant of their future as men, women, husbands, wives and parents. Traditional norms, if inflexibly applied, can pose an impediment on a child's development. Studies recommend that roles and responsibilities be commanded by family needs rather than by predetermined, gender-based expectations or stereotypes.
Socialization is an important process in cultural identity and there cannot be a universal approach to building new images and roles for men and women in the society. Work must be done in communities to identify positive role models that are culturally and socially attractive for parents, and to determine effective ways to nurture and promote them in the society.
Acquisition of values and skills required for effective parenting and cultivating constructive relationships between men and women should take place throughout the life cycle, from early childhood through adulthood. This would require working with a broad range of partners and systems that influence the socialization process at critical phases of the life cycle. These include the traditional and religious groups, community-based organizations, the education system, Parents & Teachers Associations, Non-Governmental Organizations, youth and adolescents' networks, men's and women's associations, the Mass Media, other key governmental sectors (legislation, labour, communication) and employers within the private sector.
Most programmes, which have successfully involved men in ways that benefit children and/or women, integrated male-focused strategies and activities into ongoing problems-focused projects and programmes. These include the mobilization of men to boost ORS use and immunization coverage in Vietnam; participation of men in the maternal and congenital syphilis prevention efforts in Zambia; men and women activists fighting violence against girls and women in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka; prevention of HIV/AIDS through improved socialization of boys and girls in Zimbabwe and Uganda; community development through building a partnership between men and women in Baha'i communities of Eastern Cameroon; and Gender Socialization and Life Skills Education in the Caribbean to control the spread of HIV/AIDS and prevent teenage pregnancy, violence and substance abuse. While the success of such projects provide and strengthen the arguments to target males in programming, the projects themselves can serve as effective entry points to a broader and life cycle wide approach to positive gender socialization.
Data suggest that many men can be effectively motivated by what they perceive is in the best interest of their children. This should be taken into consideration in future programme design seeking men's involvement. Other factors that influence men's motivation in responding to the needs of children and women should be further investigated.
The first step in developing strategies to involve men in the lives of children is the analysis of the situation. The focus should be on the role of fathers and assessing how the relationship between men and women affects children. Studies to support this exercise should also seek to identify resilient (positive deviant) behaviours among men as well as factors that influence these behaviours. Information in the following areas would be helpful:
- Beliefs, attitudes and common practices related to gender relations and roles in the household and in the community
- Patterns of boys' and girls' socialization
- Genesis and perpetuation of beliefs and practices (positive or negative) which affect children and women
- How prescribed roles and related practices affect children, women and the community;
- State of policies and legislation which protect the rights of women and children
- Past and ongoing initiatives to better involve men in the lives of children and/or to achieve gender equality
- Potential partners to involve in community and national levels programming
The paper offers suggestions for strategies and basic programme components. These include:
- Mobilizing men for policy and legal reform in favour of children and women
Men are critical in the development and implementation of policies and laws that impact on the wellbeing of women and children. If given the right support and guidance, many would respond positively to the issues of child rights and gender equality. Advocates should appeal to lawmakers on a personal level -- as husbands, partners and fathers -- most of whom surely want to feel they are doing their best for their children. In many settings, there is urgent need to develop or strengthen laws to protect women and children against violence, sexual exploitation, violation of rights to property and maintenance allowances, discrimination in the job market and in other spheres of life.
- Creating a long-lasting, supportive environment for children through positive socialization
A life cycle approach to achieving gender equality begins with parents. To impart a positive redefinition of manhood for their sons, men must first find value and integrity for themselves in their role in the family. These values need to be assimilated by other systems such as the school, religious organizations and the mass media, which, traditionally, play an important role in child socialization. Research in the community would help guide the choice of messages and skills to develop through school curricula and the work of other partners. Appropriate channels to reach parents need to be sought.
- Creating a supportive environment in the household
A key operational question to address is how to help men find non-violent ways of expressing frustration and learn to share in domestic work, child rearing and provider role. Facilitating communication between family members is crucial. Partners with experience in family counselling should be identified and mobilized, and further research in this area should be supported.
- Developing partnerships for programming and advocacy
The range of partners within the government and civil society cannot be limited. The importance of men's organizations and groups is crucial for achieving progress in the short term.
- Integrating male-targeted activities into ongoing programmes
The paper does not recommend a vertical approach in involving men but, rather, suggests strategies for re-examining existing programmes, when applicable, and to include males on the basis and direction of lessons so far learned.
Finally, the paper discusses the expected outcomes of male-targeted strategies and suggests indicators for measuring success in three main areas:
- To determine the changes in the roles and self images of men and women
Information could be collected in the following areas: (a) change of roles within the household, e.g., amount of time spent in income earning, domestic tasks and child care for men, women, boys and girls; and (b) changes in the perception of masculinity and femininity at community level, e.g., expectation of gender roles, popularity of role models.
- To assess the benefits that the positive involvement of men yields for children, families and the community
The ultimate goal of male-focused strategies is to improve child wellbeing and achieve gender equality. There is no need to develop new indicators for this. Efforts should be made to assess the effects of male-focused strategies on the achievement of already defined project and programme objectives and goals. The evaluation should seek to determine the value added of male-focused strategies. Special emphasis could be in the areas of child health and nutrition, sexual and reproductive health, girls' education and community participation. Sector-based indicators were used to evaluate the impact of male-focused strategies in Cameroon and Vietnam. In Cameroon, the school attendance rate for girls increased from 7 to 100 percent in two years, following the introduction of male-focused strategies. In Vietnam, the use of ORS increased by 60% and the immunization coverage by 90%.
- To assess other special gains for women
Special gains for women will vary depending on contextual factors. They may include decreased domestic violence, revised inheritance laws and practices, decreased sexual exploitation of women and girls, and decreased use of illicit drugs and alcohol. For UNICEF, working more with men is operationally and politically challenging. But, doing so may show new ways to better achieve child development goals and contribute to the elimination of obstacles to gender equality. These efforts will help address child rights and development issues at household level, thereby impacting positively on ongoing programmes, as shown in previous field experiences.
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