Fathers have a vital role to play in preventing and reducing men’s violence against women and in building a non-violent future. Fathers can have a profound and positive impact on children, mothers, families, other fathers, and the wider community.
There are of course a wide range of ways in which men can contribute to ending violence against women, and a wide range of ways men can improve their own fathering. But here I focus on what fathers can do, as fathers, to prevent domestic and sexual violence.
The term ‘father’ is used broadly here for any man who has fathered children or who provides care for children. Some tips are written for fathers who have female partners, but most of the tips apply to all men who care for children.
What fathers can do to prevent violence against women
Dads shape their kids, and in doing so, they can shape a world free of violence. What they become depends on what you teach them.
You don’t have to be an expert. And you don’t have to be perfect. Speak from the heart. Try to provide a positive example. Inspire your kids with a sense of fairness and respect
Be a good father and a good man
Have a vision of the values and principles of positive fathering. Positive fathering is involved, equitable, and respectful.
Reflect critically on the messages about being a father, and being a man, you were taught – by your dad, your friends, your culture, and the media. What was good about them, and what should be questioned or abandoned?
‘Masculinity’ refers to the set of behaviours and roles associated with being a boy or a man. In many contexts, boys and men are expected always to be tough, strong, heterosexual, dominant in relationships, stoic, and so on. But these ideals are changing, as gender roles change. Figure out what a healthy, equitable masculinity looks like for you.
Make non-violence and gender equality the foundation of your fathering. Strive to behave in a consistently non-violent and respectful way, with your children and with your partner. Be more than just against violence; be for gender equality.
Examine and take responsibility for your own behaviours. Reflect on, and change, any abusive or controlling behaviours of your own.
Parenting can be incredibly demanding and frustrating. Use safe, respectful ways of dealing with anger. If you have behaved in a way which doesn’t reflect this, acknowledge it, apologise, and make amends.
Walk the walk
‘Walk the walk’ by being a good role model for your children. Lead by example. You can teach your children to be better, more respectful people just by the way you act. Your kids look up to you, copy you, and will learn from you.
Also be a positive adult male role model for other kids: in the community, on the sporting field, and on the street.
Teach early and often
Talk to and teach your sons and daughters about healthy and respectful relationships. Teach them early and teach them often.
Talk to your children about how to be fair and respectful in relationships. Encourage empathy and kindness. Show how to deal safely with anger and aggression.
Adjust your teaching as your children grow and develop. With younger kids, have conversations about bodily rights and autonomy, fairness, and gender stereotypes. With older kids, have conversations about sexism, sexual consent, and abuse and control in dating relationships. You’ll find plenty of tips on talking to your kids in the Further Resources below.
Open up gender roles
Discuss negative gender stereotypes and their impacts, on boys as well as girls, with your kids. Discuss with your son what it means to be a man or to be masculine – what ideas come to mind? Question sexism, the attitudes and behaviours that maintain unfair gender inequalities. Help your son to break down and challenge limiting and sexist ideas, and support and celebrate positive and ethical qualities and behaviours.
Teach about consent
Consent – free agreement to take part in something – is a key part of healthy sexuality and relationships. Talk about bodily and sexual consent with your kids. Have clear and open conversations about consent. Challenge the gender stereotypes that feed into and normalise sexual coercion.
Encourage and celebrate self-expression
Let boys know that it is okay to step outside the ‘Man Box’, the set of traditional assumptions about how boys and men should act, and to adopt behaviours and choices associated with girls and women. Support your children to pursue their passions beyond gender stereotypes.
Be an equal partner
Be a fair and supportive partner. Be respectful: listen, affirm experiences, and value opinions.
Offer trust and support: support your partner’s goals in life, and respect their right to their own feelings, friends, activities, and opinions.
Show that dad and mum are a team. If your kids see you and your partner as equals, this is what they will look for in their own relationships.
Be honest and accountable: accept responsibility for yourself, admit being wrong, and communicate openly and truthfully. Talk to your partner respectfully, even when you’re under pressure.
Do your fair share
Pull your weight. Share the responsibility of caring for your children. Create an open dialogue with your partner about the care of your children. Become involved as an equal partner. Engage in open and fair discussions with your partner about how to divide the housework. Recognise that care and domestic work don’t just involve the tasks, but responsibility for planning and managing what needs doing.
Forge a bond
Forge an independent and intimate bond with your child. Establish a pattern of involvement early on and stay involved. Spend time alone with your children. Develop the confidence to care for your children, so that your partner does not have sole responsibility for this.
Encourage mother respect
Support the relationship between your children and their mother. Value the contribution of the stay-at-home parent. If you are the main breadwinner in the family and your partner stays at home to care for your children, ensure that you value her contribution as being equal to yours.
Conflicts are an inevitable part of relationships and family life. Learn how to manage them, as that is key to healthy relationships. Talk them through in an open and respectful way. Negotiate and behave fairly: seek mutually satisfying resolutions to conflicts, and be willing to compromise.
Keep the peace
If you have separated from your children’s mother, work to maintain a respectful relationship with her. Don’t criticise her in front of the children or use them as pawns in conflicts with her. Support the relationship between the children and their mother.
Use positive discipline
Don’t hit or spank. The evidence is that ‘corporal punishment’ leads to serious developmental and other problems. Set firm boundaries, address children’s emotional and social needs, and use positive rather than violent discipline. Avoid threats, shouting, or intimidation.
Raise awareness of sexist culture
Talk to your children about how men and women are portrayed in popular culture. When you’re watching TV or reading a book together or just talking about things, offer criticisms of sexist stereotypes about gender, parenting, and sexuality. Encourage diverse role models and career ambitions.
Help your children understand that not all parents or adults follow traditional gender roles. Explain to your children that some families have two mums or two dads. Affirm diverse genders and sexualities: some boys grow up attracted to other boys, some girls are attracted to girls, and so on.
Make the most of leave entitlements and family friendly work conditions. Check out the options available at your workplace so you can manage your work commitments yet be available to your family and children when you are needed.
Take care of your own emotional and physical health. Maintain a network of friends where you can share trust and support and fun. Ask for help early when you need it. If you are going through a separation find support, from friends and professionals. Keep healthy so you can enjoy your kids, and their kids, for as long as possible.
Further resources: Raising gender-equitable sons – A collection of guides, articles, and tipsheets