By Clara Alemann
Last week the Bank and Promundo launched a new program, Program P (‘P’ for Padre in Spanish, meaning “Father”), as a targeted response to the need for concrete strategies to engage men in positive, active caregiving from their partner’s pregnancy through their child’s early years.
Both families and gender relations are shifting toward non-traditional models where men and women take on roles involving paid and unpaid work that includes, in large part, caring for children. However, gender inequality continues to manifest itself in the region through high rates of violence against women, sexual and reproductive health issues such as maternal mortality, unwanted and early pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV/AIDS, among others.
Moreover, a high percentage of children in the region are victims of violence in the home. In countries with available data, between 25% and 47% of women state that the children in their homes are physically punished, a situation that occurs most often where women experience intimate partner violence. In spite of this fact, domestic violence remains a taboo subject, considered an issue to be handled within the family behind closed doors.
The main focus of Program P is to engage men through the health system, especially during prenatal visits and well-baby check-ups. The program’s manual provides the tools needed by health care staff to achieve this. It also offers methods for educators and organizations that want to work with mothers and fathers to promote co-responsibility in child rearing, parenting skills that promote healthy and loving relationships without violence, and socialization that provides the same opportunities to their sons and daughters by modeling equality in the couple’s relationship.
The program was piloted in Nicaragua and other countries outside the region. It is currently being adapted for implementation in Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua and Guatemala via the health sector, training providers to engage constructively with men on the topics of sexual, reproductive, maternal and child health and facilitating reflection sessions with fathers as part of health services.
This work with fathers proved to be a key entry point to addressing sensitive issues such as alcoholism and violence and how these situations affect the family. Program participants reported better relationships with their children and partners, greater participation in housework and child care, lower consumption of drugs and alcohol, and above all, they acknowledged the immense benefit of being involved in the lives of their children. “My father doesn’t get mad or yell at us like he used to. He’s more relaxed and spends more time with us,” reports the son of a pilot program participant.
Hopefully, governments in the region are open to translating a program like this to their national contexts and including it among their early childhood development strategies. This approach has yielded positive results in European and Asian countries as well as the United States, and it is starting to be used in the LAC region, thus achieving a change in gender norms that negatively affect the development of children from before birth. It is worth considering!
Clara Alemann is a consultant in the Division for Gender and Diversity. She works on the analysis of the determinants of poverty and the integration of gender and diversity in the design and implementation of social protection studies and operations, focusing on the areas of sexual and reproductive health, conditional cash transfer programs, early childhood development, and youth at risk.