Written By : P.V.Swati, Former Officer – Gender Mainstreaming
As part of its gender mainstreaming strategy, IGSSS has actively sought to engage with men in various programmatic areas and this was the key rationale behind the ideation of our Positive Fatherhood programme. We believe it is important to involve men in discussions and interventions related to gender as the onus of initiating change in attitudes and mindsets, related practices and behaviors does not lie with women alone. Our work with older and younger men is premised on the fact that they themselves have been victims of patriarchal socialization that traps them in the roles of providers, protectors and often, predators.
Given the male dominance in the targeted communities undergird by strong patriarchal norms, the project as a point of entry focuses on positive fatherhood and child rearing models. The emotional resonance of most men (old and young) with their children has been utilized as a safe space to deconstruct the notions of masculinity, femininity, gendered roles and how they play out in such communities. The main strategy of the project has been to create a space in the community to initiate conversation about these issues. Through this process of sustained engagement, the project has aimed to capacitate men to achieve personal transformation, social and emotional involvement, community connectedness, economic stability, parenting skills and knowledge, healthy marriage and co-parenting.
The programme in the past few months has laid special emphasis on the importance of men’s participation in care giving activities as an attempt to deconstruct gendered division of labour. Men in the group meetings have often expressed how they are essentialized as “bread-winners” and “protectors” in the familial spheres while women are relegated to roles of nurturers and care-givers. Many fathers in the group also expressed how they are apprehensive of going against these social roles. One of the men in a meeting in Kohna village of Allahabad stated “if I begin to do the housework like cooking, cleaning and caring for young children then people will think of me as an emasculated man and I would be labeled as a slave to my wife”.
Such fears and insecurities were voiced by many men in the collectives across the villages we are working with. These apprehensions are the by-products of social construction of masculinity which disallows men from participating equally in care-giving activities, thus perpetuating gendered division of labour. Hence, the activities conducted with men were aimed at their concentization about the importance of equally contributing towards care work in domestic spaces.
While many men were initially hesitant to participate in role play exercises and were uncomfortable with the ideas being conveyed, many also came forward to identify with the positive fatherhood models. All fathers agreed that greater participation in care-giving activities will not only enhance their involvement in their children’s lives as fathers, but will also lead to more equitable spousal relations. The project has also made similarly successful leads in creating a space for younger boys in inter and degree colleges to engage with issues of gender inequality.
Thus, in this past one year IGSSS as a part of the Positive Fatherhood programme has been very successful in actively stressing on the need for a strong message of gender equity in parenting processes and discussed potential strategies to infuse positivity in conception of fatherhood in families.