Families are changing. Fewer people are getting married, more people are cohabitating, women have greater access to and control over reproduction and their sexual lives, and more couples are choosing to have fewer children. Gender relations are also changing: women now constitute half of the world’s paid workforce, and more countries are introducing legislation to promote equal rights for women, though violence against women is still highly prevalent in many societies. The situation of children is improving in terms of child survival and the right to education, but there are still children all over the world who are victims of violence in their homes, communities, schools, institutions and workplaces. Violence in the home is still a taboo and silenced topic, and three out of four children experience violent discipline at home. Girls and women, especially, are at risk of sexual violence and harmful traditional practices such as child marriage.
In addition, strong societal and cultural resistance continues to discourage both young and adult men from taking equal responsibility with women for domestic and child care work as well as participate in sexual and reproductive health decision-making. In general, men earn more income than women do, which reinforces the culturally-sanctioned understanding that men’s primary role within families is that of economic provider. The larger problematic structures, which undergird gender inequality in the workplace and in the home, are the social and cultural norms defining the concept of masculinity and what it means to be a man. Action is urgently needed at every level of society to address and eventually end the perpetuation of environments in which women are undervalued and denied a voice in decision-making, and where men, too, are constrained in actively involving themselves in the kind of equal caregiving that makes a significant contribution to the welfare of their partners and children.
The benefits of men taking on a greater role in caregiving cannot be overstated. By caring for children, men build stronger and more affective connections with those whom they care for. Decades of studies have shown that children who have supportive and affectionate role models in their fathers are more likely to be safer and better protected from violence, have more successful futures, and handle the stresses of life more easily than those with an absent father or male role model. Men’s active engagement with caregiving has a positive effect on the gender socialization of girls and boys, and makes children them more open to questioning traditional gender roles. Women who have involved partners feel more emotionally supported and less stressed than women with absent or uninvolved partners. Men benefit as well: those who participate more equally in caregiving report better mental and physical health than those who do not