The growing interest in the role of men in the family has been triggered by diverse demographic, socio-economic and cultural transformations that have occurred over the past several decades, impacting the formation, stability and overall well-being of families.
Enormous changes have also been occurring in the perceptions of the role of women and men in families. Women are still the main providers of care at home even as they assume greater work responsibilities outside their homes. Nevertheless, as women enter the labour market in growing numbers, men have been newly confronted with demands that they become more engaged in performing family responsibilities, including care-giving, and providing emotional support to children, offering guidance so as to enable children to connect with their extended family and community members and participating in a variety of household activities.
The UN publication "Men in Families and Family Policy in a Changing World" examines a number of relevant current international issues affecting families and the role of men in addressing them. The areas of analysis include gender equality, participation in care work, fatherhood, migration and HIV/ AIDS. It also highlights problems associated with the presence of fathers and other male figures in families, such as domestic violence and substance abuse, while arguing for greater inclusion of vulnerable fathers in support services. By and large, the five independent Chapters of the publication provide an overview of existing national and regional research on the issue of men in families and related policy considerations.
The book begins with the Chapter "Men, families, gender equality and care work" which presents a global review and analysis of trends in men's participation in care work and its importance for achieving gender equality. It emphasizes the importance of men's employment status for their social identity as it relates to family formation, support and stability. This Chapter also observes that beyond income provision, men's roles as fathers and caregivers are being recognized more in many parts of the world. Consequently, policies in some countries encourage greater participation by men in family life. Further, the authors discuss the changing dynamics of families and the role of men, including changing notions of manhood itself. Efforts to engage men in the area of sexual and reproductive health are highlighted. Further, the chapter focuses briefly on family-based strategies to alleviate poverty, noting that poverty and joblessness may separate men from their families. The second Chapter "Fatherhood and families" explores the subject of fathers and father figures, and their changing roles in different cultural contexts, with attention being drawn to the concept of "social fatherhood", which encompasses the care and support of males for children who are not necessarily their biological offspring. The chapter reviews different forms of father engagement and their implications for children and families, including the evidence of the beneficial educational, social and psychological effects on children. It looks at men and fathers across generations, while considering the consequences of the growing numbers of older persons for families, intergenerational relations and childcare. The chapter further explores what is known about work-family balance with respect to men, and the role of policy in advancing men's engagement with children in the context of employment policies.
Chapter-III: "Fathers in challenging family contexts: a need for engagement" examines the wealth of research on vulnerable fathers, male carers and fathers in vulnerable family contexts. A major issue for men across the world is separation from their children, through either the relatively common breakdown of relationships or the rarer occurrence of paternal imprisonment. Despite relationship fragility or discord, more fathers are attempting to sustain relationships with their non-residential children and may need support when they are met with difficulty in fulfilling their aspirations in this regard. The chapter also focuses on the problematic family environment where, through domestic or child abuse, men endanger the lives of women and children with whom they live and to whom they are related. Although most men do not abuse children or their partners, there is surprisingly little systematic study of the minority of fathers and male partners who do. The chapter also discusses fatherhood in the contexts of youth, disability and older ages and examines cases where men's family care and earning capacities are at risk of being compromised or challenged. Although family policies are becoming more father-inclusive, there is a long way to go in most countries, especially developing nations, which are most in need of harnessing men's caring competencies. The chapter recommends that Governments and local service providers ensure greater inclusion and enhanced visibility of men's parenting and care responsibilities throughout the life-course.
The fourth Chapter "Migration, families and men in families" focuses on families and men in the context of labour migration. It emphasizes that migration is usually a family affair and that migration patterns have become increasingly complex over the past generation. The author focuses on the ways in which migration can lead to significantly increased economic and social well-being for families and communities, and the changes it can precipitate in family relations for families living in destination countries and for those remaining behind in countries of origin. The chapter also examines the small body of literature on men and fatherhood in relation to migration, as well as the somewhat more substantial literature on the significant differences in remittance behaviour between male and female migrants. A major argument presented throughout this chapter is that while a focus on migrant women over the past 20 years or so has counteracted a male-oriented bias in previous thinking about migration, men now tend to be left out.
The publication concludes with the Chapter "Men, families and HIV and AIDS" which looks closely at the impact of HIV/AIDS on the family, as the illness, death and stigma resulting from HIV/AIDS have profound consequences not only for infected individuals but also for their families. Understanding the experiences and responses of affected families is then crucial for efforts to successfully strengthen and support families. As most affected families include men, it is important to consider the way in which family policies take into account and benefit men and their families. While the value of engaging men in family interventions is generally recognized, it is argued that family research and programmes on HIV/AIDS have been hindered by assumptions related to men and HIV, and men's involvement in families, and by messages that assign blame and emphasize innocence with respect to particular family members. This chapter also examines the assumptions on which policies have been based-for example, that men have little or no involvement in the care of children or of family members who are ill. Family policies on HIV/AIDS that relate to men should, essentially, seek to promote and support men's positive engagement with and involvement in families, and to initiate and improve efforts to increase men's engagement with health services targeted at addressing their own health concerns as well as those of their partners, children and other family members.
The writer is an independent researcher.