“Responsible Fatherhood”: What Do Women Have to Do with It?

There are many national and local efforts focused around the issue of fatherhood in the United States. They are necessary and encouraging, but we are convinced that women's voices are also essential to their success and sustainability. That's why our organization, Women In Fatherhood, Inc. (WIFI), recently joined with the Open Society Campaign for Black Male Achievement in its work to strengthen low-income families and communities through the support of positive father involvement.

We are launching a media campaign, "In the Words of Women," to raise awareness about the importance of fathers.  In alliances with our counterparts in the domestic violence and maternal and child health fields, we aim to help bridge gendered, partisan, and ideological divides in family support policy and programs geared toward fathers.  We plan to advocate for changes in local (Baltimore and New Orleans) and national policy that supports positive father involvement, healthy families, and community development.

Despite scholarly and public claims that low-income women predominantly hold negative opinions of fathers, women across the country whom we surveyed overwhelmingly expressed the need for fathers to be involved emotionally and physically in their children’s lives. Some expressed anger and frustration toward individual men and against existing structures and systems. They also expressed anxiety about the future of their children and their communities in the absence of positive father involvement. Their insights into the barriers fathers face, and suggestions for supporting positive father involvement, reinforce the premise of our work: women can share in the collective mission of supporting father involvement for the betterment of families and communities.

The purpose of our work is not about choosing to support men and fathers over women and mothers, or devaluing the importance of efforts to ensure that the complex needs of disadvantaged (often black) children, families, and communities are met. A holistic focus on fathers AND mothers AND children is an essential component of strengthening families.

Providing services for men and supporting the father-child relationships need not compete against the interests of mothers, as mothers and children stand to benefit when fathers are actively engaged in the material and social support of their children.  Women In Fatherhood aims to serve as a bridge between policies, programs, and ideologies that have often appeared to be at odds.

Women's voices provide an opportunity for the Responsible Fatherhood field to continue its growth and effectiveness.  Women's voices expand the fatherhood conversation to ensure that the interests of women and mothers are included along with the interests of fathers. And women's voices bring more groups, policies and programs to the table that, through collaboration, can expand their focus to include the role of fathers.

We're looking forward to making possible courageous conversations among unlikely partners. Working together can lead to collaborative efforts that bring about positive outcomes for families and communities.

2 Comments

In my country Kenya, there is a constant rise in single motherhood. Most single mothers attribute thier status to 'hit and run' partners. Most men who do not take responsibility of the children they have sired blame the women for getting pregnant without consent or 'trapping them'. There is need for family planning methods for men to be actively introduced so we don't have incidences of 'feeling trapped' and all men who sire children do it knowingly and take responsibility.

Maurine, thank you for your post. You raise an important issue--men around the world need to be included in family planning issues, such as partner communication about sex, sexual health, planning for children, and the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy for the mother, child, AND the father. It is true that “single mothers” carry a huge responsibility and often face serious obstacles to economic success. It is also true that an unplanned pregnancy can have serious consequences for men as well, such as derailing education and/or training, decreasing financial security, issues around child support and child visitation, and negative impacts on current and future romantic relationships. And, even though there has been growing recognition that promoting responsible fatherhood is important to child well-being and family economic success, relatively few programs and policies focus on delaying early or unplanned fatherhood in the first place. For example, according to a 2009 Guttmacher Institute report, only eight states in the U.S. have Medicaid eligibility for reproductive health services to include males. This is one of the gaps in policy and practice the Women In Fatherhood plans to address.

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