How fathers make a difference

By Jennifer Winnett Denniston
July 30, 2019

I am passionate about equality for girls.

My own life experiences as a woman have shaped my beliefs about equality. When I think about my story, there are certain people who stand out for either positive or negative reasons. I have a crowd of women who have cheered me forward in my life, but the people who have made the biggest impact over the years share one interesting trait: they are men.

That list includes my husband, who let his career take a back seat to mine at a critical time so I could blossom and then cheered for me every step of the way. One male boss invested in my learning profoundly and taught me to never walk into a room without a pen and a notepad in my hand. My father, though, set the tone for all the men who would follow. He believed that I was capable and taught me that my only limits were the ones I chose. At the same time, he taught me explicitly that there were people in the world who would treat me differently because I was a girl. He prepared me by making sure I knew how to drive a stick shift, negotiate the purchase of my own car, balance my checkbook and hold my own at a poker table.

As the mom of a boy, I know that he will one day have the opportunity to create space for the women in his life to be treated equally. I can try to prepare him for that, but his very best teachers will always be the men in his life who consistently model the respect and equal treatment that women deserve. My son’s father — my husband — is actually his best teacher on this subject, just like my own father was mine.

Malala Yousafzai, the famous activist for girls’ access to education, is another woman who, like me, was raised with the benefit of a father who believed she was entitled to equality from the beginning. Her father Ziauddin Yousafzai wrote recently about his role in raising his children to embrace their place in the world without regard for their gender. He has lent his support to the 2019 State of the World’s Fathers report, which was produced in partnership with Plan International and other like-minded organizations.

The report analyzes the impact of caregiving and the division of caregiving responsibilities between men and women on gender equality. It tells us that we are making progress in some high-income countries, but that there is still significant work to be done around the world. Five key recommendations are made:

  1. Improve laws and policies.
  2. Transform social and gender norms.
  3. Guarantee economic and physical security of families.
  4. Help couples and co-parents thrive together.
  5. Put individual fathers’ care into action.

You can download your own free copy of this important report. When you do, take a moment to enjoy the beautiful cover photo that makes me smile every time I see it!

And, as a Plan supporter, you can be proud that you are part of an organization that’s thinking carefully about including everyone in our efforts to make the world a better place. I know I am.