The launch of the MenCare campaign was a celebration of fatherhood, and a festive gathering of people committed to engaging men across the world in becoming more involved in the care of children.
The magnificent House of Sweden building in Washington DC was an ideal setting for the launch. Mostly composed of wood and glass with a view of the Potomac river, the building gave the necessary depth and perspective to the seriousness of the matter at hand. When guests entered the venue, however, it was anything but serious and they were met by a bright and colourful mixture of images and messages of fatherhood.
The MenCare campaign presents ten themes to the world that exemplify ways that men can be more involved in the care of children. The floor was surrounded by large, almost life-size images of these different themes of the campaign. A beaming boy looks up at his father, with the slogan: You care for me, you are my father. On the opposite side of the room a girl is held closely in the arms of her father and the slogan reads: You show me affection, you are my father.
A special personal touch that was added to the launch was a set of images that had been created by the global team working on the campaign, of them and their fathers. You give me support, you are my father, proclaimed the poster of the chair of the board of Promundo. For me it was a proud moment to see me and my father racing down the Cape Town promenade with the words: You run with me, You are my father.
Since the campaign is coordinated by Sonke Gender Justice and Instituto Promundo, it was fitting that Tatiana Moura from Promundo and Mbuyiselo Botha from Sonke were the MCs for the event. Guests who attended included international policy makers, donors, journalists and activists.
The campaign is supported by the global MenEngage Alliance, and the launch was timed to coincide with a two day MenEngage global steering committee meeting. Consequently the room was filled with a global network of people that have collaborated over the past decade or so towards engaging men in health, gender equality and social justice.
The campaign has major policy, public health and human rights goals, since gender equitable fatherhood holds a range of benefits for women, children and men themselves. The tone of the launch however quickly became very personal, and story after story of positive, engaged fatherhood emerged as the launch progressed.
Adding to the celebration, Mbuyiselo shared the fact that he had just become a grandfather, and that his son, Rapakisa, is a good example of a gender equitable father.
The keynote speakers invited to speak at the event were three champions of human rights with impressive track records in achieving social justice globally. Tatiana introduced the first speaker:
Dr Purnima Mane currently serves as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Deputy Executive Director, a position she was appointed to in March 2007. Mane joined UNFPA from the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), where she served as Director of Policy, Evidence and Partnership. She started her contribution with the comment that caring for children is indeed good for men’s health: Her father had cared well for his children for his whole life and was now a healthy 88 year old!
Dr Mane reminded us that violence does not make a man, but breaks a man. She expressed excitement about the campaign, committed to support it where possible and closed with the statement: ‘When men care, everybody benefits.’
Dr Moez Doraid, Director of the Coordination division of UN Women, also followed the theme of sharing personal experiences of fatherhood, and explained that in his life he had been parented by three mothers and two fathers. He highlighted the need for effective interventions that engage men against violence against women, such as Program H in Brazil, One Man Can in Africa and Bell Bajao in India. He closed with the hope that our sons and daughters will grow up in a more gender equitable world.
The final speaker, Ambassador Donald Steinberg, Deputy Director of USAID, admitted that the reason he returned to USAID was the opportunity to promote and support women’s empowerment. He recalled that when he was seven years old, his father gave him an unexpected christmas gift: a lifelong membership to the National Organization of Women. This had shaped his thinking and turned out to be a very wise investment on his parent’s behalf. He also expressed excitement and eagerness to see the MenCare campaign’s success. He closed on a lighter note by saying that he will probably give his son a superhero toy for christmas this year, but hoped to be an example of a man that exemplifies gender equality.
MenCare is characterised by high quality media. The campaign has developed a set of poster images that portray men in caring and equitable roles, matched with slogans that highlight the particular aspect of fatherhood is being shown. Countries or communities that host the campaign then insert their own appropriate images and slogans. In this same vein of high quality media a MenCare film is also under way. The award winning film director Nathan Golan treated the audience at the launch to a short preview of the film. The preview told the story of a young father living in a favella in Rio, and showed how his life had shifted away from violence and towards care when his child was born. Not one eye in the room was dry after the film, and the true cause of the campaign was front and centre.
As the evening drew to a close I shared the story of Sibonisile, the baby on the cover of the campaign booklet. When the global campaign booklet was about to be published, we realized that we did not have a global signed release form for the models in the South African image. When we contacted the photographer she said that she had unfortunately lost touch with the parents, and only has a local release form signed. The next day, we were about to change the image when I had an unexpected call from the photographer. She in turn had had an unexpected call from the mother of the baby in the picture, Sibonisile.
Sibonisile is now a sixteen year old, and she wants to become a model. She needs a portfolio, but cannot afford to pay the photographer. Prompted by our call the day before, the photographer then had the idea of asking the MenCare campaign to pay for the permission to use the photo, and this will cover the cost of the portfolio shoot for Sibonisile. We thought this was a great idea and immediately agreed. So MenCare supported Sibonisile’s first (or actually second) step towards becoming a professional model.
The photographer also mentioned to us that Bongani, the child’s father, was absent. This made it even more appropriate that this image of closeness with his daughter be used for the campaign. May the image inspire him, and others, to remember and revive the valuable connections between men and children.