Partnering with Boys and Men
-Men's Roles in Achieving the Millennium
-The Impact of Gender Roles on Men
-Reaching Out to Boys and Men
-The Formative Years
"Changes in both men's and women's knowledge, attitudes and behaviour are necessary conditions for achieving the harmonious partnership of men and women. Men play a key role in bringing about gender equality since, in most societies, men exercise preponderant power in nearly every sphere of life, ranging from personal decisions regarding the size of families to the policy and programme decisions taken at all levels of Government. It is essential to improve communication between men and women on issues of sexuality and reproductive health, and the understanding of their joint responsibilities, so that men and women are equal partners in public and private life." - ICPD Programme of Action, Para 4.24
In the past, development efforts have tended to focus on either men or women, but rarely on both. For decades, development assistance often took the form of providing technologies, loans and training to men. Starting in the early 1970s, analysts pointed out the need to pay more attention to women as agents of development.(1) The initial effect was to direct more resources to women and, later, focus attention more broadly on gender dynamics and inequalities. The movement for gender equality itself has undergone a similar shift over time, from an early emphasis on women alone to the recognition of the need to engage men in the process.
The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) was unprecedented in its call for countries to promote men's support in the struggle for gender equality and encourage their involvement and shared responsibility in all areas of family life and reproductive health. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) give little explicit attention to men's roles, although the need to involve men in their realization is apparent. As a matter of principle, men, especially those who are marginalized by poverty or other circumstances, have needs and rights that deserve greater attention. As a practical matter, men wield preponderant power across all areas of public and private life. Their cooperation is essential not only in the domestic and community spheres, but also in the wider realm of national politics, finance and governance. Gender equality, and the social transformation it implies, is most likely to be achieved when men recognize that the lives of men and women are interdependent and that the empowerment of women benefits everyone.
Men's Roles in Achieving the Millennium Development Goals
Men's partnership is clearly essential to achieving gender equality and can influence all of the other MDGs both directly and indirectly. Partnering with men is an important strategy for advancing reproductive health and rights, which are so closely linked to the MDGs. The AIDS epidemic sharply underscores men's critical role: In the absence of a vaccine or cure, changes in male behaviour are central to preventing the spread of HIV. Men play a decisive role in many other respects. Husbands often make decisions about family planning, their wives' economic activities and the use of household resources, including for doctors' and school fees. These decisions influence the well-being and prospects of the whole family. The care and support of an informed husband also improves pregnancy and childbirth outcomes and can mean the difference between life and death in cases of complications, when women need immediate medical care.
Supportive fathers can play a large role in the love, care and nurturance of their children. Often they are the primary providers for their families. Researchers have begun analyzing the links between paternal absence and poverty. Children's psychological, social and cognitive development can suffer from paternal abandonment and lack of affective and material support.(2) Fathers who neglect their financial responsibilities leave women with children more vulnerable to poverty.(3) Some mothers are forced to bring, or send, their children to work instead of to school.(4) Research in Central America and the United States has found that repercussions of paternal abandonment or neglect range from poor educational performance and school drop out (including early entry into the workforce to help families make ends meet), to teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse. In the United States, fatherless children were more prone to suicide.(5)
The many benefits of a father's supportive involvement in family life underscore the pressing need for effective policies. Social norms and institutions that assume women are primarily responsible for children's well-being and care may discourage men from getting involved during pregnancy and childbirth. Yet this early involvement is associated with men's later roles and responsibilities as fathers.(6)
Gender-based expectations can keep men from enriching the lives of their children and their own lives as well: Studies confirm that for many men, fatherhood enhances well-being and confers a sense of purpose and fulfilment. Some studies have found that fatherhood may also reduce men's criminal behaviour and other forms of risk-taking.(7) Furthermore, fathers with more gender-equitable and responsible attitudes about childrearing are more likely to pass on those values to their sons and daughters and to spend more time with them.(8)