Politics of Poverty

Father’s Day raises the question, How much do men care?

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guatemalan father and son_677KB.jpg
Lucas, a farmer in Guatemala, and his son. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

As the pandemic threw many household arrangements out the window, it also opened the door for men to step up to do more hands-on care work. The challenge now is to close the care gap even more. A new report offers an action plan.

In June, countries around the world celebrate Father’s Day—a moment to recognize the 80 percent of men who become fathers in their lifetime.

Fatherhood is one of the most powerful expressions of what it means to be a man. It is also, in most societies, a crucial source of power. It enables men to decide who gets access to resources, who has control over their bodies, and what is deemed important.

In other words, it is the basis of various manifestations of patriarchy: from stories of lineage, religion, and founding fathers, to selection of last names and notions of patriotism.

This system has been built with daily patience in routines at homes, schools, and workplaces: who cooks, who cleans, what is recognized as work that deserves to be paid, and who provides care. The division of responsibilities falls into a binary construction: this is what women do, this is what men do.

This is not accidental. It is the system that sustains men’s power.

In all corners of the world today, women do three to ten times more unpaid care and domestic work than men; they also make up 70 percent of the paid care workforce.

Men benefit greatly from this arrangement. It allows us to devote time and energy to leadership positions in businesses and governments. It enables us to decide the rules of the game, and to change the rules as we play it.

We have built a system where men are often in a position of domination over others, especially women, LGBTQI and non-binary people.

Surprisingly, the pandemic has nibbled away at the edges of this system, at least in the home. A new report from Promundo finds that in the past year, “men have been carrying out more hands-on care work than any time in recent history.”

State of the World’s Fathers finds that, right now, we have a small window of opportunity to foster transformative change. Small because, at the current pace, the report states, the “world is at least 92 years away from achieving equality in unpaid care work between men and women.”

This Father’s Day offers a unique opportunity for reflection. More men are finding a way to regain their own humanity by engaging in domestic work and care work. As men, we need to hold these things together and ask ourselves: are we strong enough to change? Can we find in care the path to redemption from patriarchy?

Male violence and male care

Sadly, for millennia, men’s tendency toward violence has been tolerated and disregarded—and our ability to care for others has been discouraged. This situation hurts everyone, including the men and boys who are dehumanized.

In our patriarchal culture, men are allowed to express anger and frustration openly, while discouraged to express emotions or shed tears.

Before the pandemic, the rate of instances of male violence against women, LGBTQI, non-binary people, and children were alarming. But it’s gotten worse, as the lockdowns intensified pressures in the household. UN data from 142 studies in 44 countries point to an alarming increase in men’s violence against women during COVID-19.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Providing care is not a biological trait. The acts of caring, to be cared for, and care for others constitute a central element of what makes us human.

It is a fundamental part of society. We should regard it as a social good that contributes to our social and economic well being; and we should recognize and redistribute care work among all of us, not just women and girls.

From reflection to action

The new report offers a way forward with a 7-point action plan for achieving equality in care work.

Oxfam joins the call for men to use their privilege and power to change as individuals, to defy outdated, harmful laws, and to create a culture that values and respects care.

  1. Establish national care policies that recognize, reduce, and redistribute care work equally between men and women.
  2. Provide equal, job-protected, fully paid parental leave for all parents as a national policy.
  3. Design and expand social protection programs to redistribute care equally between women and men, while keeping a focus on the needs and rights of women and girls.
  4. Transform health sector institutions to promote fathers’ involvement—from the prenatal period through birth and childhood—and to encourage men as caregivers.
  5. Promote an ethic of male care in social norms, through schools, media, and other key institutions.
  6. Change workplace conditions, culture, and policies to support workers’ caregiving—and mandate those changes in national legislation.
  7. Hold male political leaders accountable for their support of care policies, while advocating for women’s equality in political leadership.

Join us this Father’s Day in exploring new ways for men to engage with their families, and to commit to the real work of caring.

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