Launch of the MenCare campaign in South Africa

MenCare seeks to provide support materials, messages, policy recommendations and research to encourage local MenEngage partners, NGOs, women’s rights organizations, governments and UN partners to implement campaign activities in their settings.

80% of men will be fathers

More than four out of five men worldwide will be fathers at some point in their lives. And nearly all the world’s men have some connection to children as brothers, uncles, teachers, coaches or simply as friends. A growing and overwhelming body of evidence from the Global North and Global South confirms that engaged fatherhood is good for children, good for women and good for men themselves. Yet engaging men as caring, involved fathers and caregivers has seldom been the focus of our global efforts to engage men in gender equality. The MenCare campaign was launched to provide a platform for achieving this aim. The South African launch was the first of many to follow, in a growing global network of organizations that share the vision.

The Football for Hope centre provided an appropriate backdrop to the event, with messages of encouragement to young soccer players displayed in every available space. These messages were echoed by the videos about Sonke’s activism which played on the main video screen in the foyer, where arriving guests registered.

A wide audience at the launch

The launch included representatives from a diverse network of organizations and individuals that shared the vision of a new kind of fatherhood. These included government departments, civil society and the private sector. An important group of guests were the children that form part of the Grassroot Soccer programme that is held at the football centre. The youngsters used art to express their emotions and opinions about their fathers.

The participation of children was an important part of the day, and echoed an important theme of the campaign. The print materials that the campaign utilizes express messages from a child’s perspective to the men that care for them in their lives. These materials, and their messages, were placed around the audience in the launch venue. While the event was happening guests read the words: ‘You are my beach buddy, you are my father; You tell me wonderful stories, you are my father; You see equality in my future, you are my father,’ and other taglines addressing the other campaign themes.
For this South African campaign, the international campaign materials were adapted with local slogans and images.

Art, encouragement and plans

The pictures drawn by children decorated the inside of the venue and guests were encouraged to read the messages from children and look at the pictures. Once seated, guests engaged in a powerful conversation about the caring roles of men, and participants shared several stories. Sonke’s Mbuyiselo Botha and Justice Khumalo engaged the crowd in a masterful manner with a conversation that was at times hilarious and at times heart rending.

Leaders from the network then shared their inputs on the campaign and their vision. Sonke co-founder and current board member Bafana Khumalo delivered a sobering reminder to reflect on the parenting leave policy in South Africa and pointed out that men currently have access to only three days of ‘parental responsibility leave’ which he argued is insufficient. Instituto Promundo founding Director Gary Barker shared some of the history and the ten main themes of the campaign. Sonke’s founding director Dean Peacock reminded the audience that everyone in the room had someone that could benefit from the campaign, and gave an outline of the planned implementation in SA. Some of the donors of the fatherhood project at Sonke expressed their continued support. Sakumzi Ntayiya gave an enlightening talk about the UNFPA’s strategies and work in SA, and where work with men fits into the UNFPA approach. Hangwi Manavhela expressed the support and interest of FNB, a key supporter of the campaign.

The keynote speech was delivered by the Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini.
Minister Dlamini gave a powerful reminder to the participants that civil society has brought government to where it is today by simultaneously supporting and challenging government, and that this work should be continued. She expressed openness to debate, and a willingness to engage with the issue of working with men and boys to reduce violence against women. She said that she values Sonke’s work precisely because we work with government when it’s possible to do so and then raise the alarm when government doesn’t deliver.

She encouraged women not to stand abuse, and expressed her department’s commitment to endorsing and supporting the campaign.

The MenCare campaign in South Africa, coordinated by Sonke, will continue research into the various dimensions of fatherhood in South Africa; provide communication and training materials to partner organizations; drive a fatherhood related media communications campaign through radio, print and television; and support policymakers with analyses of and recommendations for policies that can affect the caring role men can play in South Africa.

The event was a valuable initiation of the South African work, and an exciting precursor to the global campaign activities, due to be launched in Washington, DC in November.
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