Here’s one way to make the world safer for women

Today is International Women’s Day. In the U.S., one group is using the occasion to launch a campiagn called Ring the Bell: One million men. One million promises. The campaign calls on “men and boys around the world to promise to take concrete action to address, challenge, and end violence against women.” Here in Canada, the theme for International Women’s Day this year is Working Together: Engaging Men to End Violence against Women.

This is not a “women’s issue,” but a human issue. Indeed, brand new research from the University of Calgary has identified seven promising areas for engaging men and boys in domestic violence prevention.

I love what comes first on this list of opportunities: engage fathers. Make it normal for men to care for children. Replace traditional definitions of masculinity with a broader vision. (Read a PDF of the new report here.)

What does this have to do with women and domestic violence? Lots. “Increased positive father involvement is associated with lower levels of family conflict and violence, and increases the chance that children grow up in an emotionally and physically safe environment,” says the United Way-funded report, produced by the university’s Brenda Strafford Chair in the Prevention of Domestic Violence. The report notes that boys with nurturing, involved fathers are less likely to use violence against female partners later in life.

When dads are actively involved in their kids’ lives, they create a ripple effect that benefits everyone. Life is better for women, it’s better for children and it’s better for fathers too.

Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go in normalizing fathers as involved parents. It’s common to see media stories that explore how female business leaders and politicians balance work and children — recall the recent furor over Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s parenting choices — but there is a dearth of similar commentary about men. (A welcome exception is this excellent story in today’s Globe and Mail: Why the stigma of being a hands-on dad lingers.) It’s still widely assumed that a father’s role in life is primarily to work, and it’s up to mothers to negotiate the tricky balancing act of raising children and having a career. It’s total nonsense — but persistent nonsense.

Less than a year ago, I was a stay-at-home dad with my two young children. At times it was immensely frustrating, but I would always remind myself that I was making a meaningful investment in their lives. At times it was difficult to understand what that investment was, exactly. I’m so glad United Way is partnering with the University of Calgary for this groundbreaking research (and there’s more coming soon; this report is only the first part of a new initiative called Shift: The Project to End Domestic Violence).

The research confirms what many fathers hope: parenting with empathy and intentionality creates a safer world for women, a healthier world for children, and ultimately, a better world for all of us.

— Jeremy Klaszus is a Communications Advisor with United Way of Calgary and Area.

What steps can you take to end violence against women? Visit the Ring the Bell website for ideas, and share your thoughts below.

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