What you need to know:
- Care work is, however, not limited to men raising children or looking after the spouse.
- It extends to taking care of ageing and sick parents and relatives, as well those living with disabilities.
Walter Mounde is a vanguard of generation equality. He prepares food for his one-year-old daughter, feeds her and changes the diapers.
At night, he remains awake for hours to soothe a crying baby. He doesn't do laundry, only because they have a helper. Throughout the pregnancy, he accompanied his wife to the prenatal care clinics.
And when she had to spend three weeks in hospital because of birth complications, Mr Mounde was there taking care of her and their newborn, mostly holding her to allow his wife to rest.
By that, he broke the stereotypical norm that care giving is only for women. Had he stuck to that tradition, Mr Mounde would have summoned his mother, sister or female in-laws to look after her.
Even as he went against the grain, the twisted and unsupportive environment left him emotionally and financially drained.
First, his employer then gave him a 15-day unpaid paternity leave, although the law allows for a 14-day paid paternity leave, except for teachers who are entitled to 21 days with full pay.
Second, his extended family was up on his neck with criticism over his disruptive action.
“For the first three months, my mental health was completely messed up," he said in a phone interview on Tuesday from Nairobi where he lives.
He wished his employer offered paid paternity leave to cushion him from financial constraints that came with the arrival of the newborn. The leave wasn't even enough for him to support his wife to regain strength.
"It takes three months for the mother to be stable; the men should be given at least a month to be there for the wife and the child," he recommended.
His previous work experience in the private sector exposed him to glaring corporate biases that prevent working men from participating in care work.
“You'll find in the workplace the employer releases female workers early on the grounds that 'the kids are waiting for you at home. Go take care of them.' They hold men to work for longer hours because 'for you, your wives are already home to take care of the children,’” he said.
"Let's stop this perception that only women take care of children. Let us normalise having present fathers. And being a present dad does not mean you're a weak man or henpecked. It's simply being there for your child.”
Having grown up with an absentee father, Mr Mounde resolved early in life to give his children what his father never gave him: presence.
In Kisii county, Justus*, a lecturer, is showing his two boys how to wear and walk into the future in Equimundo (equal world) shoes.
In March 2019, his marriage suddenly ended when his ex-wife, a public servant, secured a transfer to a county in the eastern region. He said he was against the transfer, but she went ahead with it. That was it. He was left with two teenage boys to raise.
Immediately, people started advising him to find a wife to look after his sons as it was "abnormal for a man to take care of children on his own."
For him, those were unnecessary voices. He had made up his mind that his children were his and he would raise them in the best way he could.
“We have never had a helper. We share all domestic work. We sit down and assign each other roles," he said on Tuesday in a phone interview from Kisii.
"In our house, there is nothing like who is superior or junior. We are very open with one another and do everything as one."
While Justus said his sons will grow up knowing that domestic work isn't the preserve of women, he acknowledges that the stigma attached to men’s care work is toxic and suffocating.
"It takes you down emotionally but you have to be strong for the kids."
He said he only has one friend who understands him and to whom he can confide.
The stigma, repulsive societal structures, gender insensitive corporate structures and a lack of emotional support are among the oppressive systems making it difficult for men to participate in care work even as a global study released on Tuesday revealed up to 90 per cent of men are willing to do it.
Care work is, however, not limited to men raising children or looking after the spouse. It extends to taking care of ageing and sick parents and relatives, as well those living with disabilities.
Equimundo, a US-based pro-positive masculinity organisation, launched the report in Kigali, Rwanda, where the Women Deliver conference is ongoing.
Some 11,999 men and women from 17 countries across six continents participated in the online survey informing the report: State of the World’s Fathers: Centring Care in a World in Crisis.
Taveeshi Gupta, director of research, evaluation and learning at Equimundo and one of the report authors, said the study found an interlinkage between care work and men's emotional self-care, pointing to the significance of giving men a shoulder to rest on.
"Men who say they take care of their emotional selves are eight times more likely to report caring for a partner," she said.
They are also six times more likely to report caring for a child's emotional needs, or attend to older family members' physical needs, she said.
The branch chief for gender, quality, diversity and inclusion at the International Labour Organisation, Chidi King, noted that integrating men's care work into the labour market would revolutionise formal work for the benefit of men and women.
"With centred values of caring at the workplace, we will have equal distribution of working time, doing away with the culture of long working hours increasing an employee's chances of a promotion,” she said.
"With this revolution, men will have time to work and spend with their family. It will also be easier for women to enter the workforce, stay and be promoted.”
In the early 2000s when proponents of men’s care work, including MenCareand MenEngage, introduced the conversations in global conferences, including UN meetings on gender equality, they became victims of ridicule. Nevertheless, the fire had been lit.
In 2021, UN Women launched a five-year campaign, Generation Equality, under which it calls for a global shift to equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, as a way of promoting equal socioeconomic growth of a woman.
Equimundo CEO Gary Barker said the Covid-19 pandemic proved that the care economy is the “centre of our lives” and today the global community is more interested in the conversation.
UN Women executive director Sima Bahous urged governments to roll out inclusive care programmes and policies, observing that exclusion of men from this sector is harmful to everyone in society.
Her proposal reaffirms the report's recommendation of asking governments to hold male political leaders accountable for their support of care policies.