Men: Equal Partners in Care Work?
by Bayano Valy
Anecdotal evidence in Mozambique shows that there are men who perform care and household work believing they are helping their partners—this is grounded in evidence from pre- and post-evaluation courses of the programme “Men in the Kitchen.”
“Men in the Kitchen” is a program designed and implemented by Mozambique’s Men for Change organization Rede HOPEM (http:www.hopem.org.mz/) which seeks to challenge power relations by getting men to question hegemonic masculinities using a gender transformative approach. The course has trained more than 200 men since its inception in 2014. Alongside “Men in the Kitchen,” the men are trained in childcare through the organization’s efforts on behalf of sexual reproductive and health rights.
The men who participate in the courses say they are more than interested in gender-progressive activities within the household but are not exactly comfortable expressing such behavior publicly due to societal pressure.
Incidentally, when the men come in to hone their skills, they believe they are doing so in order to better “help” their partners. It is after going through the theoretical component of the programs that they realize that as men doing care and household work, they are not helping but sharing the house care workload.
This notion is dispelled in the courses. Rather, they should in fact increase their workload within the household in order to promote gender equality. The courses also encourage them to develop their abilities in the household and make choices to continue doing the work without regard to societal pressure, stereotypes and prejudices, as well as lead them to realize that it is their responsibility to work in the household as full partners.
Perhaps the most appealing feature of male involvement in gender promotion is that men themselves stand to gain much from a gender-equal society. However, this is still a tough sell for most men brought up in a society in which patriarchy still reigns supreme—not only is swimming against the patriarchal tide socially costly but it also requires a support network which is still incipient.
Paradoxically, the people who should really be the happier from the toils of their menfolk in care and household work seem to be ambivalent. When consulted months after taking part in the courses, a larger group of men said that their partners saw their newfound enthusiasm for engaging in care work as an invasion of their private space. A smaller group reported that their womenfolk were happy to see the transformation.
But worryingly, a third group said that their partners were questioning their manhood, and rather than welcoming the change, they started displaying hegemonic masculinity traits—maybe this is because the only reference women have of “leadership” are men who are constrained by the ossified edifice of patriarchy.
What the evaluations suggest is that there is a need for the implementation of gender-synchronized approaches in order to ensure that their partners encourage them to share the workload rather than question their manhood or even belittle them.
It is crucial to put in place strategies for the creation of an enabling environment for men who seek to break away from the yoke of patriarchy. Such spaces could simply be clubhouses where men could go and mingle with other like-minded men, as well as share their experiences.
That is likely to ensure that more and more not only men perform care and household work but do so in the knowledge that their work is appreciated by their partners and society, and that they are not helpers but partners who want to achieve gender equality in all aspects of the concept.
Bayano Valy is the Advocacy, Research and Network Program Manager for Rede HOPEM and a proudly avowed feminist. In his previous life he worked as a journalist tackling a plethora of issues with a focus on politics, economics, gender and development.