Fathers are key to advancing gender equality - Plan International Canada

The dad club GOH FY22

Some fathers share the responsibility and the joy of parenting their children equally with their partners. If more did, we’d be closer to gender equality being a reality. But are fathers’ setup to share the joint responsibility of more unpaid care work? Will gender norms allow for new definitions of fatherhood embedded in positive masculinities? A new report by MenCare led by Promundo reveals that fathers around the world who are provided with the information and opportunity to increase their caregiving role, have demonstrated the confidence and the ability to do so.

Ziauddin Yousafzai, Co-founder of Malala Fund 


“Today there are more men promoting equal rights and opportunities for women. But we still have so far to go. The State of the World’s Fathers 2019 report shows how fathers can teach their children, both boys and girls, to value equality and to make it their own. To support their wives and partners. And the report demonstrates how fathers themselves benefit from more equitable relationships.” - Ziauddin 

Yousafzai, Co-founder of Malala Fund 

The State of the World’s Fathers Report found that 85 percent of fathers say that they would be willing to do anything to be very involved in the early weeks and months of caring for their newly born or adopted child. There’s a universal desire to be more involved. And we know that when fathers are more involved, everyone benefits. So, what’s the problem?

3 Barriers that fathers face:

  • Paternity Leave - Less than half (48 percent) of the world’s countries offer paid paternity leave, but it is often less than three weeks – or sometimes only a few days. Even when paternity leave is available there is low take-up among fathers.
  • Gender Norms - Restrictive gender norms and stereotypes position care as women’s responsibility and there’s an entrenched perception that women are more competent caregivers than men.
  • Economic Security – Financial stress and barriers prevent parents from taking parental leave. Context matters: economic insecurity, active conflict or war, and political instability present tremendous challenges for caregiving.

As a society, how can we help fathers unleash their potential of being the type of parent they want to be? If we focus on caregiving, according to the State of the World’s Fathers report there are 5 ways to do this.

Five keys to unlocking the power of men’s caregiving

Key 1 – Improve laws and policies

Sweeping changes are needed in the legal realities and the policy environment that shape women’s and men’s opportunities and choices, as well as children’s lives. Equal, fully paid, non-transferable parental leave for all parents is central to setting the foundation for fathers’ involvement with their children from an early age. Governments must collect data on time use in unpaid care work and how it is divided between women and men and girls and boys and use it to inform policy-making and budgeting decisions.

Key 2 – Transform social and gender norms

The ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, a mother or a father, need to be reassessed and redefined for gender equality to move forward. Plan International Canada does this by taking a gender transformative approach*  in its projects.

 In order to advance equality efforts are required to first improve the social position of women and girls. How do we do that? 

We work with and engage all local influential people and institutions that hold power to influence change in the lives of women and girls. For example, our #ChangetheBirthStory campaign is highlighting a health project that works with governments, religious and community leaders, health workers, men, women and adolescents to improve access to sexual and reproduction health care and educati

on in communities across 5 countries: Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ghana, Haiti, and Senegal. Watch this video to see how we’re engaging fathers to advance equality and help #ChangetheBirthStory.

Key 3 – Build the economic and physical security of families

Relatively few families worldwide are able to make decisions about caregiving without economic constraints or physical safety concerns. 

Though we are unable to move the needle on physical safety of community members, we are able to improve the economic realities of our beneficiaries through savings groups. As part of the health project being showcased in our #ChangetheBirthStory campaign, we train women and adolescent girls to organize into saving groups and start income generation activities. They are also encouraged to set-up Social Health Funds that enable members to receive small grants during pregnancy to access health services.

Key 4 - Help couples and co-parents thrive together

This refers to men’s relationships with their intimate partners and co-parents, which are most often women but include households of all sexual orientations and gender identities. It is essential to understand the diversity of caregiving relationships and to elevate the voices and demands of women, paying attention to what women are calling for in terms of fathers’ care work.

Key 5 – Put individual fathers’ care into action

It is ultimately the individual father who either does or doesn’t step up into a more equal caregiving role. However, we must recognize that although individuals have the power to do more, they face social and cultural barriers that may keep them from disrupting the status quo. 

“There is lack of approval of what he does by his parents due to their old beliefs and customs. Whenever they see him helping, they scold him. But gradually some of them have begun to understand the benefit and they are now accepting it.”  – Woman Partner, Nigeria 

Citation: van der Gaag, N., Heilman, B., Gupta, T.,Nembhard, C., and Barker, G. (2019). State of the World’s Fathers: Unlocking the Power of Men’s Care. Washington, DC: Promundo-US.

You can help advance equality

Girl pointing to message on her t-shirt

Gender equality benefits everyone and though gains have been made the road ahead is a long one. We still live in a world where women are spending significantly more time than men – sometimes up to ten times as much – on unpaid care and domestic work.

 Fathers are a demographic with which great strides can be made. Through our projects, we have seen firsthand the impact of engaging father’s and its positive result on their relationships with their partner, children and on the advancement of equality.

If things remain as they are, women and girls will continue to be denied their right to health and autonomy over their bodies and lives. Together, let’s help fathers unleash their power to be equal partners, parents and champions of change. 


*Gender transformative projects have an explicit rights-based intention to transform unequal gender power relations which are often at the heart of many disadvantages faced by women and girls; the focus goes beyond improving the condition of women and girls to improve their social position. Gender transformative projects address the root causes of gender inequality and promote the value of women and girls.  


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