Fathers and gender equality

  • Letters
  • Monday, 18 Jun 2018

WHEN the topic of gender equality arises, few people see any connections with active and involved fatherhood.

Encouraging responsible fathers has yet to be a popular choice when discussing women empowerment, but the Society for Equality, Respect And Trust for All (Serata) is determined to change that.

Serata’s mission is to promote gender equality through involved fatherhood and shared responsibilities at home. This is in line with Target 4 of Sustaina­ble Develop-ment Goal (SDG) 5, which is to recognise and value unpaid care and domestic work, including through the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family.

Unpaid and domestic care work refers to the work that women and girls do for which they are not paid, such as cooking, cleaning, washing, child-rearing, and elder-care, among others.

Unpaid work occupies time that women and girls could alternatively use to attend school, pursue higher education, or hold full-time and meaningful employment. Globally, women make up about 40% to 50% of the workforce, but they’re still spending two to 10 times longer than men on childcare and domestic work. Through redefining domestic roles and establishing balance in the household, women and girls’ time will be freed up so that they can pursue other opportunities and make important decisions for themselves.

Serata’s work is also aligned with the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) which identifies the unfair distribution of domestic and care work as a significant impediment to women’s empowerment. It urges men and boys to assume household responsibilities, and fathers to play a greater role in the upbringing of children

Over the past few months, Serata has been conducting an Instagram-based campaign called #celebratingfatherhood, where we collected stories of parenting from fathers in Sabah and published the stories as a series of three Instagram posts for each featured father. Celebrating fatherhood aims to promote equal parenting, by acknowledging the importance of engaging fathers in raising children through a collection of stories from fathers who have been actively involved in parenting.

The project aims to address this community issue by highlighting stories of active fatherhood to shape an online advocacy campaign that celebrates fatherhood in a society where parenting is normally largely focused on women. To celebrate fatherhood is to appreciate fathers who are committed to being a part of their children’s lives.

To date, Serata has collected and published stories from nine fathers from various ethnicities and working backgrounds. The common denominator among all of them is that they are married to women who are successful – women who have either built a solid career for themselves or run their own businesses.

Serata believes that targeting fathers is the key to achieving gender equality as fathers matter deeply to child development, and they are as biologically hard-wired to provide care as mothers are. High levels of father involvement are correlated with higher levels of sociability, confidence, and self-control in children. Children with involved fathers are less likely to act out in school or engage in risky behaviours in adolescence.

Fathers who play a positive and involved role in their children’s life have also been shown to reduce a child’s risk of suffering from abuse and neglect. Furthermore, fathers with close connections to their children live longer, have fewer health problems, and are more productive and generally happier.

Currently women are seen to be the homemaker and the main caregiver of their children. This is even reflected in the Labour laws, where women are provided with two months of maternity leave but men are not given paternity leave at all, unless provided at the discretion of their employers. It indicates that there is a deep-rooted perception that men have no place in raising their kids, and thus are not given the chance to bond with their children from birth.

The lack of father participation perhaps also contributes to the dismal figure by Unicef (UN Inter-national Children’s Emergency Fund), which stated that 50% of divorced fathers in Malaysia pay no child support at all. Unable to afford childcare and often saddled with the additional burden of caring for extended family members, many single mothers are housebound and forced to rely on modest government assistance to even put food on the table.

The promotion of active and involved fatherhood will not only be beneficial to children, but also for the well-being of women. It is time to change the mindset of what it means to be a father – it is no longer about being the sole breadwinner.

Sabrina Aripen

Co-founder of Society for Equality, Respect And Trust for All (Serata)

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