Can encouraging men to take a more active role in raising children prevent violence against their partners? Experts working in the gender equality field have long suspected so.
Now, the most rigorous ever long-duration study on engaging men in the parenting process has confirmed that hypothesis, finding that men who attended a fatherhood course in Rwanda were almost half as likely to use violence against their female partners.
New research by Promundo, Rwanda Biomedical Center and Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre, published on Wednesday, evaluated the impact of a 15-class course on caregiving and equitable gender attitudes for young fathers and their partners, known as MenCare.
They found notable reductions in domestic violence. Where 56% of women whose partners did not take part in MenCare reported experiencing intimate partner violence 21 months after the program concluded, just one third of women whose partners did participate reported the same, a 23-point drop. Both men and women were also 10% less likely to use physical punishment against their children in the intervention group compared to the control.
But the results were not limited to violence reduction. Men who attended the classes spent approximately one hour more per day on average helping with domestic chores. It is also the first intervention targeting men which has shown an increase in the number of antenatal visits their partners attend.
“The results were pleasantly surprising,” said Ruti Levtov, Director of Research at Promundo, an NGO dedicated to engaging men in the struggle for gender equality.
“For a long time, we hypothesised that trying to transform gender norms and behaviours is at the core of lots of different health outcomes. This study shows that hypothesis pans out: we saw solid results across a variety of outcomes, and the impact is sustained over a pretty long time period,” she said.
Participating men attended 15 fatherhood classes adapted from an open-source intervention called Program P, a fatherhood curriculum for new or expectant fathers.
Sessions took place over four to five months on topics including gender and power, couple communication, violence and caregiving. The men were aged 21 to 35, and either expectant fathers or fathers of young children. Their partners attended for half of the classes.
The aim of the intervention was to undo the gendered power imbalance that leaves women vulnerable to violence and without decision-making status in the home. The classes comprised discussion groups on power dynamics in relationships, the importance of maternal health, and the role of men in supporting their partners in raising children.
According to Levtov, the results highlight the need for interventions that engage men over a substantial period of time, not just in one-off sessions, which studies have found little evidence to support. The new study is one of the first to find significant results after a 21-month period following the completion of an intervention.
Levtov also stressed the value of gender-transformative interventions for a range of health outcomes beyond just violence reduction stats.
“It shows the importance of thinking across sectors in development,” she said, stressing the need to consider violence perpetration alongside other women’s health concerns, including decision making power, use of contraceptives, and maternal healthcare. In the intervention group, some 70% of women report currently using modern contraception, compared to 61% in the control group.
The study is an important contribution to a fraught topic in violence prevention: whether resources should be focused on men, who are often the perpetrators of violence, or women and children, who are often on the receiving end. Critics suggest that scarce resources are best allocated towards women’s empowerment programs, while Promundo engages men as allies in the process of achieving gender equality.
Violence against women is estimated to cost 2% of the world’s GDP — around $1.5 trillion — every year.
To read more about interventions targeting young fathers, read our case study on Promundo’s work in Indonesia.
(Picture credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran)