Working dads are key to equality

Nikki van der Gaag is one of the authors of the State of the World’s Fathers report that was published in 2019. She considers its reception and what working dads must do to make things better

dads, housework


2019 was a State of the World’s Fathers year. Every two years since 2015 experts come together to study the evidence and compile an authoritative report on what life is like for working dads.

By drawing on evidence from across the globe they can pick out overarching themes. And they propose solutions to make life better for dads, and for mums.

Oxford based writer and consultant Nikki van der Gaag helped set up the project in the first place. And she’s one of the authors of the 2019 report.

The reports are the work of gender equality initiative Promundo and form part of their MenCare campaign. Soap and skincare brand Dove partnered again with Promundo in 2019 to help fund the work.

Nikki took time to look back at the report that landed this year. And she considers how its findings can change things in 2020 and beyond.

What’s your role with the State of the World’s Fathers (SOWF) report and how did you first get involved?

The idea for the first report came to me in a swimming pool! I often think best when exercising. In 2013 I was doing a global evaluation of the MenCare campaign back. I had been involved in writing many of Plan International’s State of the World’s Girls reports, and there was UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children, Save the Children’s State of the World’s Mothers, but nothing on fathers or fatherhood. It seemed like an important gap.

I have been involved in co-writing and conceptualising the three reports that followed.

Why is the SOWF important?

Because it is the first time that anyone has looked globally at what fatherhood means in the context of gender equality, how fathers in different countries see their role, and why it is important to fathers, mothers, children and society.

Why did you want Malala’s dad Ziauddin Yousafzai to write the foreword?

Because he has been such a champion of women’s and girls’ rights, and Malala has spoken many times about how much her father supported her and what a difference this has made to her life. He is a good example of what involved fatherhood means in practice.

What are your main takeaways from the 2019 report?

That in order for things to change, it is not enough to work with individual women or men. We need to look at changes at all levels from government through workplaces, communities to families. And they need to be structural and systemic. We came up with the MenCare Commitment

We are asking governments to sign up to a range of different strategies by 2030 in order to bring about a shift in the sharing of unpaid care and domestic work so that men take on their fair share – 50%.

What’s different about the 2019 report?

We have worked with a range of partners to commission original research in this latest one, which really helps us to understand what fathers are doing, what they and their wives or partners need, and how this contributes to gender equality.

Anything particularly surprise you about the findings?

Probably not as I have been working on this issue for quite some time now. But the global and national interest and the scale of change is really exciting.

The focus again is on domestic work – why is that so important to improving gender equality and the position of dads?

Women in every country in the world still do between three and ten times more unpaid care and domestic work than men, often on top of paid work. This holds women back (let alone allowing them much less time to sleep, or read or just sit!) but it also means that men lose out on that incredible connection with their children. And children lose out on the many proven benefits of spending time with their dads.

So involving fathers in domestic and care work is a win win for all – and will improve gender equality.

The latest report from the World Economic Forum this month says it will take another 99 years to achieve this. We can’t wait this long. And getting dads involved is one key to change.

What happens to the report now – how do you go about getting a hearing for its findings?

What was so interesting when we did the first report was that although we knew there was a gap and that this was the first of its kind, we had no idea that it would generate such a massive response. We had launches in the UN in New York with Chelsea Clinton, and then all over the world. It generated global press interest and spawned a huge number of national fatherhood reports over the following years – from Russia to the USA, South Africa to Brazil to India.

The 2019 report was launched in Vancouver at the Global Women Deliver conference, and there are national reports once again as well.

We are beginning to see changes, for example in paternity leave in many countries and in the corporate sector, where we are part of a Corporate Task Force on paternity leave, and genuine interest from the grassroots to governments as to how this work can be embedded and why it contributes to gender equality.

What can individual men do to act on the report’s findings?

Doing more in the home, so that we reach equality. Recognise the vital importance of care work to our whole society, but also promote flexible working, Shared Parental Leave, affordable childcare and other policies within their workplace.

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