Multiple studies show that fathers who are actively involved in the upbringing of their children have a positive effect on their child’s development. Spending quality time with fathers plays a crucial role in children’s behaviour, happiness, and cognitive skills.
But while the benefits of being a good father are obvious, deeply embedded gender stereotypes across the Eastern Partnership region make it challenging for men to take an active part in child care.
To promote the role of fathers and to help men build stronger relationships with their children, the EU 4 Gender Equality project, funded by the European Union, has established 18 Father Schools across the Eastern Partnership.
“This school is exactly what allows fathers to be convinced in their abilities and become better parents,” says Lasha Cheishvilli, who took part in the Father School in Georgia.
Lasha is one of more than 2,200 men from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine who benefited from the Fathers’ Schools.
The schools focus on gender equality and help men to become more conscious and responsible parents by sharing childcare and household responsibilities with their spouses or partners.
Indeed, the involvement of fathers in unpaid care work is one of the keys to socio-economic wellbeing and gender equality. In Europe and Central Asia, women spend on average 2.5 times more time on unpaid care work than men. The COVID-19 pandemic increased this burden for women even more, with more than 2 million mothers leaving the labour force in 2020, according to new global estimates.
The Father Schools therefore not only help men to become more engaged fathers, but also supportive partners, who share unpaid domestic work with their spouses to support their full participation in economic, political, and social life.
“The wife shouldn’t be the only one who is involved in care work,” says Stanislav Grugov, who took part in the Father School in Moldova. “The husband needs to be equally involved. Both should take care of their child education and share house chores,” he insists.
Positive fathering is also associated with increased emotional well-being of the family and a reduced risk of violence. It also means that men take on nurturing and caretaking roles, and model behaviours that promote gender equity and peaceful ways of resolving conflicts. Being a good father explicitly includes respectful treatment of the other parent.
“In the Father School, as future fathers, we learn what responsible parenting is, how to educate our children, and how we can combat gender stereotypes that ultimately lead to violence. I am 17 years old, and I already know what kind of father I want to be. I will be kind, I will tell my children that I love them. The role of the father in the children’s life is crucial. The children who have a father involved in their life have better results in school and easy lifestyles,” says Ionut Chintea, who participated in the Father School in Moldova for more than a year.
To support Fathers’ Schools, the project created “The Papa Schools Manual”. The manual is used by facilitators of the schools and includes a series of sessions to enable men to reflect and build collective support for making positive, healthy changes in their lives.
“It is no secret that stereotypes on the roles of men and women are widespread,” says Susanna, who participated in the Father School Armenia sessions with her husband Garegin. “My husband and I decided to take part in the Father School to avoid the problems that many couples around us face. For example, some young fathers are scared to approach a newborn, asking, ‘what if I hold the baby the wrong way or harm him or her?’ During the sessions, we learned, among other things, how to properly hold and carry a baby. We even learned breathing techniques to mitigate pain during labour.”
Encouraging men to become more involved in childcare is one of the key goals of EU 4 Gender Equality: Together Against Gender Stereotypes and Gender-Based Violence programme, funded by the European Union, and implemented jointly by UN Women and UNFPA in the Eastern Partnership countries.
The three-year programme seeks to strengthen equal rights and opportunities for women and men by shifting social perceptions around gender roles, tackling gender stereotypes and increasing men’s participation in childcare and other domestic responsibilities.
This article was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of UN Women and UNFPA and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.
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