News & Views

Celebrating Fatherhood is essential to gender equality

In conjunction with Fathers Day 2018. Published on The Star on Father and Equality

Talk about the topic of gender equality, and few people would be able to connect the topic with active and involved fatherhood. Encouraging responsible fathers is yet to be a popular choice when discussing women empowerment, but Society for Equality, Respect And Trust for All (SERATA) is determined to change that.

SERATA’s social mission is to promote gender equality through involved fatherhood and shared responsibilities at home.  This is in line with Target 4 of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, which is to recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work, including through the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family. Unpaid and domestic care work refers to the work that women and girls do for which they are not paid for such as cooking, cleaning, washing, child-rearing, and elder-care, among others.

Unpaid work tasks occupy time that women and girls could alternatively use to attend school, pursue higher education, or hold full-time and meaningful employment. Globally, women make up about 40 – 50% of the workforce, but they’re still spending 2 to 10 times longer than men on childcare and domestic work. Through redefining domestic roles and establishing balance in the household, women and girls’ time will be freed up so that they can pursue other opportunities and make important decisions for themselves.

SERATA’s work is also aligned with the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) which identifies the unfair distribution of domestic and care work as a significant impediment to women’s empowerment. It urges men and boys to assume household responsibilities, and fathers to play a greater role in the upbringing of children

Over the past few months, SERATA had been conducting their Instagram-based campaign #celebratingfatherhood, where they collected stories of parenting from fathers in Sabah and published the stories as a series of three Instagram posts for each featured father. Celebrating fatherhood aims to promote equal parenting, by acknowledging the importance of engaging fathers in raising children through a collection of stories who have been actively involved in parenting.

As summarized by SERATA founder Sabrina Aripen, “The project aims to address this community issue by highlighting stories of active fatherhood to shape an online advocacy campaign that celebrates fatherhood in a society where parenting is normally largely focused on women.To celebrate fatherhood is to appreciate fathers who are committed to be part of their children’s lives.”

As to date, SERATA has collected and published stories from 9 fathers, from various ethnicities and working backgrounds. “However, the common denominator among all of them is that they are married to women who are successful – they have either built a solid career for themselves or ran their own businesses,” said Sabrina. “Regardless of whether they own businesses, work fulltime or choose to play the role of a stay-at-home parent, these fathers have shared about how they much they care about their children’s wellbeing and wish to play an active role in raising them. They even mentioned that mothers should not be held solely responsible for tasks of caring for children or other domestic chores as they too hold jobs outside the home. It was heartwarming to note that fathers already have sense of what gender equality is about, even if they don’t necessarily identify it as that.”

SERATA believes that targeting fathers is the key to achieving gender equality as fathers matter deeply to child development, and they are as biologically hard-wired to provide care as mothers are. High levels of father involvement are correlated with higher levels of sociability, confidence, and self-control in children. Children with involved fathers are less likely to act out in school or engage in risky behaviors in adolescence. Fathers who play a positive and involved role in their children’s life have also been shown to reduce a child’s risk of suffering from abuse and neglect. Furthermore, fathers with close connections to their children live longer, have fewer health problems, and are more productive and generally happier.

SERATA is still on the lookout for fathers who are interested to have their stories featured for #celebratingfatherhood. Aside from the Instagram campaign, SERATA is also conducting a cooking class especially for daddies in early July. In the long term, SERATA plans to form a support group for fathers and fathers-to-be. They also hope to bring a fatherhood program that provides fathers, especially new dads, with the knowledge and confidence to carry out their duties in caring for their children.

“Our vision is that fathers who are actively involved in raising their kids will be the new normal and that this is acknowledged by employers,” said Sabrina. “Currently women are seen to be the homemaker and the main caregiver of their children. This is even reflected in the Labour laws, where women are provided with 2 months of maternity leave but men are not given paternity leave at all, unless provided at the discretion of their employers. It indicates that there is a deep-rooted perception that men have no place in raising their kids, and thus are not given the chance to bond with their children from birth.”

The lack of father participation perhaps also contributes to the dismal figure by UNICEF, which stated that 50 per cent of divorced fathers in Malaysia pay no child support at all. Unable to afford childcare and often saddled with the additional burden of caring for extended family members, many single mothers are housebound and forced to rely on modest government assistance to even put food on the table.

“As you can see, the promotion of active and involved fatherhood will not only be beneficial to children, but also for the wellbeing of women. It is time to change the mindset of what it means to be a father – it is no longer about being the sole breadwinner,” Sabrina concluded.

For further information on SERATA, check their intagram page at Instagram.com/kita.serata, their Facebook page fb.com/kita.serata and their webpage www.kitaserata.org.

Sabrina Aripen

Co-founder of Society for Equality, Respect And Trust for All (SERATA)

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