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Set men free #2

What is fond of beer, women and football, doesn’t show emotions and is the head of the family? Go on, have a guess. A real man? Nope. It’s an image that a real man is supposed to live up to. Such gender norms can have negative consequences for women, children and men themselves. That’s why Rutgers is helping men to break free.

Caring fathers are a win-win

In several countries, standards for masculinity – and the sense of failing to achieve them – lead to tragic situations, such as domestic violence, limited opportunities for women to develop themselves, and children who grow up without a father. In the MenCare+ programme we aim to crack gender norms and get fathers more involved in caring for their partner and children. This benefits the whole family, including the father himself.

For example, in South Africa, Brazil, Indonesia and Rwanda we organise group sessions in which boys and fathers exchange their experiences and ideas about the role of men in their family. They also learn about the positive results of engaged fatherhood. Our motto: men aren’t the problem, they’re part of the solution.

“I’m often far from home because of my work. As soon as I get home, I spend a lot of time with our children. For example, I read them stories and change their nappies. That way, my wife has some time to herself.’’

Lukman Sardi (participant of MenCare+ in Indonesia)

Going forward

In the new programme Prevention+, we continue our mission to involve men in the prevention of domestic and sexual violence.

(High) five is good, more is better

Lodewijk Asscher, Dutch Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, receives the State of the World’s Fathers report (credits: Ed Lonnee)

Gender norms are alive and well in the Netherlands too, partly sustained by the arrangements for parental leave. Fathers are entitled to much fewer days of paid leave than mothers around the birth of their child. This limits men’s opportunities to care for their children and makes women less attractive to employers. Often, the result is an age-old but involuntary division of roles: men do more paid work, women take more care of the children.

Together with other organisations, we make the case for extending paternity leave. The first step in the right direction follows soon: Minister Asscher announces an extension from two to five days. To celebrate this milestone and pay the minister a compliment, we ask people to take a selfie with a high five, using the slogan ‘Give him five!’. On Facebook and Twitter, we see many hands appear. Including the minister’s.

Going forward

Rutgers aims for a formula of 10-100-1000 for fathers: ten days of paid leave around the birth of a child and a hundred days parental leave during the first thousand days of the child’s life.

Despite the extension of paternity leave, the Netherlands scores low compared to other European countries. In all neighbouring countries, fathers are entitled to 14 or more weeks of paid leave.


Beat the macho and listen to yourself

Teenage boys also face a lot of group pressure to act like a real man. As a result, they may act tough when it comes to girls and indifferent when it comes to school achievements, even if they don’t really want to. This macho behaviour hinders boys in being themselves and can lead to unwanted sexual behaviour, bad results in school, and aggression.

Together with Soa Aids Nederland and Movisie we run the pilot campaign Beat the Macho to get boys to think about gender norms and how to deal with them. We organise workshops and let boys complete comic strips about group pressure on the website The rappers MC Fit and Adje make the song ‘Listen to Yourself’ based on the most familiar situations. The accompanying music video, made from film clips sent to us by participants, is watched more than 70,000 times.

“I wish there were more places where we can be ourselves with other boys.’’

(participant Beat the Macho workshop in Tilburg)

Going forward

In partnership with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, we are examining opportunities to continue the Beat the Macho workshops in Dutch cities.

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