Lessons from the MenCare Campaign from Early Childhood Matters

Photo Credit: Early Childhood Matters— Why men’s caregiving matters for young children: lessons from the MenCare campaign
Photo Credit: Early Childhood Matters— Why men’s caregiving matters for young children: lessons from the MenCare campaign

Inspired by conclusions from a 2005 global summit on fatherhood, organized by the Fatherhood Institute and supported by the Bernard van Leer Foundation, Promundo and partner organizations launched the MenCare campaign in 2011.  Its goal was to create a global advocacy platform and provide a resource base of evidence-based programming.

Rather than starting from a pilot project or impact evaluation, the campaign chose to focus its energies on engaging the public sector, particularly addressing ministries of health, ministries of education and ministries of child development, on the need to involve fathers.  As part of this work, they have produced a range of ready-to-implement tools, which have been collected in Program P (‘P’ for paternidade, paternidad and paternité), now used in more than ten countries and officially adopted by ministries of health or governments in Indonesia, Rwanda, Brazil, South Africa and elsewhere. The tools include parent and father-training activities drawn from the ‘best of’ evidence-based parenting training.

The first-ever State of the World’s Fathersreport, an advocacy publication of the MenCare campaign, was released last June. The report highlights research, policies, and program examples regarding the state of men’s contributions to parenting and caregiving globally. Kate Gilmore, deputy executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), called the report “historic” at its global launch.

One of the key lessons learned in the process of running the international campaign has been the need to be able to engage in training and awareness building with public sector partners.  Studies carried out in Chile and Brazil have shown that “healthcare and childcare sector workers who hold traditional views about gender (that women do the care work and men get in the way), are less likely to talk to men and include them, even when the father is there.”  In Brazil, the Ministry of Health created a ‘pre-natal men’s health protocol’ urging health workers to include fathers in prenatal visits and partnered with the campaign to provide large-scale training for health workers, with the result that “more men are coming to prenatal visists and are learning hands-on fathering skills.”

Another key lesson has been around use of corporal punishment against children.  The State of the Word’s Fathers notes the following statistics: 

  • Between 133 and 275 million children per year are witnessing different forms of violence in their homes. 
  • Three out of four children aged 2-14 experience violent discipline in the home in low- and middle-income countries. 
  • One in three women around the world experiences violence from a male partner. 
  • Men who witness or experience violence as children are about 2.5 times as likely to perpetrate violence against partners later in life.

While both fathers and mothers have been shown to use corporal punishment in parenting, “data from multiple setting finds that mothers are more likely to use it.  Part of this has to do with the fact that women do more of the care work – and thus are more likely to be in daily and constant contact with children.”  Impact evaluation of a Brazilian parent-training program demonstrated that, whilst changed attitudes towards use of corporal punishment were noted as an outcome of the training, rates of use of corporal punishment by mothers did not decline.  Factors identified included lack of support by male partners, economic hardship, and multiple burdens faced by single-parent mothers.  In contrast, other studies have found that “mothers who have a good relationship with and receive support from biological fathers or other male caregivers, as well as other social networks, have less parental stress and are less likely to use corporal punishment.” 

The conclusion reached by the campaign is that, “if we want to reduce household stress, reduce corporal punishment and promote men’s involvement as caregivers, we must address the structural factors that too often disengage men from the care of children.”  This has been confirmed by their household-level sample survey, which demonstrated that “men’s involvement in positive ways as fathers is transmitted from one generation to the next.  Boys who see their fathers or other men in the household carry out care work and domestic work, and interact with female partners in equitable ways, are more likely to do a greater share of the care work when they become adults and to be men who believe in and live gender equality.  They are also more likely to have happy, fulfilled lives – as are their partners.”