In the ongoing struggle for women’s rights, the important role that men can play is often overlooked. So, with Father’s Day around the corner, we wanted to take a moment to talk about the ways in which dads are working to make the world a better place for women and girls. From challenging dominant portrayals of women in Western media to campaigning to end gender-based violence in their communities, fathers have undeniably made significant contributions to improving the realities their daughters face every day.
As allies, men are engaged to stop violence against women both domestically and internationally through their participation in various campaigns, alliances and organizations. This inclusion of feminist male voices helps to amplify the push for international women’s rights. But informal contributions are also required: fathers who believe in equality and respect in their everyday lives make for far better role models for their sons and daughters. Research has shown that when fathers play a more active role in raising their children, their sons are more likely to grow up believing in equality and women’s rights (White Ribbon Campaign, 2011).
This month, let’s celebrate the men in our lives who have been positive role models and mentors to girls and women. Let’s recognize the male leaders in our communities who stand up for gender equality to amplify the voices of women and create positive change in lives of future generations.
Feminist Fathers from Around the World
Creating Female-Friendly Spaces in Video Games
“Having a daughter is something special. I get the opportunity to see the world through her eyes. And if this experience has taught me anything, it’s that the world could be just a bit more accommodating.” -Mike Mika
In video games, the heroes of the story are almost always male characters. Female characters are often limited to the role of the ‘damsel in distress’, intentionally or unintentionally depicting women as in need of rescue and modeling victimhood and helplessness. And let’s not even get into the body dysmorphia. Many times there just isn’t an option to play a lead female character in action video games.
Father and game designer Mike Mika decided to change this reality for his 3-year-old daughter when he saw she was upset by the lack of playable female characters. Mika ‘hacked’ one of her favourite games, the original Donkey Kong, to allow the damsel in distress, Pauline, to rescue Mario. By providing her with the option to play as a girl, Mika’s daughter can now see herself in an active role.
Challenging Female Stereotypes in Western Media
The Bechdel Test:
(1) Are there at least two female roles that have names and lines?
(2) Do the women talk to each other?
(3) Do they have a discussion about something else besides being a love interest to a man?
Colin Stokes is not happy with the lack of strong female characters in children’s movies. It all began when he started to notice how his daughter and son responded differently to the films they watched. This led him to wonder why there are so few female characters in children’s movies, raising the question: what do our kids learn about the role of girls and women from their favourite films?
In 2011, out of the top 100 movies, 10% contained female lead roles. What’s more, the hero often used violence as the solution in the hero’s quest. As part of the solution, Colin encourages parents to make a point of identifying female heroines (Colin promotes the use of the Bechdel Test to actively pay attention to the role of women in movies) and engaging in discussions about the portrayals of women in movies with both their sons and their daughters.
Supporting Young Women’s Rights Activists
“I’m proud that in this world of men, I’m one of the few fathers who is known for his daughter.” -Ziauddin Yousafzai
When fathers speak out for women’s human rights, this paves the way for their daughters as well. Ziauddin Yousafzai, an owner of a rural school for children in Pakistan did exactly this.
A strong supporter for equality and women’s education, he raised his daughter Malala with these values. She has become famous for recording her teenage life during the Pakistani Taliban’s regime and her powerful political voice against this oppressive force. Her father’s belief in respect and women’s rights opened up avenues for her to become a social justice advocate and to challenge oppressive social gender norms. Today Malala, at fifteen years old, has become an international leader and continues to spread the message of the need for girls’ education.
Campaigning Against Gender-Based Violence
“There are many of us, and we are fighting together.” -Ravi Kant
Three brothers in India, Ravi, Rishi and Nishi Kant are each fathers to daughters. Together, they created a social justice NGO, Shaki Vahini, working towards protecting human rights and promoting gender equality.
Thinking about their daughters, the Kant brothers were committed to using their collective legal, social work and media skills to create a better world for women and girls. These three brothers work daily to change the lives of not just their own daughters, but of all of India’s girls. Over the past 10 years, these fathers spearheaded an organization which has rescued over 2, 000 people, most of whom are women and children, who are at risk of being trafficked.
The mobilization of Shakti Vahini on gender issues came about through the need for change. “People said: I need to do something. My sister, my daughter, my mother could be in such position. I need to do something. That was what everyone felt in their hearts and then there was a huge uproar.”
Around the world, fathers are working towards creating a more promising future for their daughters. Sometimes it is as simple as raising questions and looking more critically at the reality faced by women and girls. Fathers are important piece of the puzzle in the struggle for women’s rights, and today we thank them for their support. Happy Father’s Day.