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Gary Barker, Ph.D. Headshot

Fathers Embrace International Day of the Girl Child

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To the disappointment of many women's rights groups, today turned out not to be the Day of Malala.

That's because the Nobel Peace Prize didn't go to Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani who risked her life to promote girls' education.

As two men who advocate for women -- and as fathers of girls -- we hoped Malala would become the youngest Nobel Laureate. But we'll take the consolation prize: Today is the UN day recognizes half of our children: The International Day of the Girl Child.

We need this day because in many parts of the world, our daughters face obstacles that our sons can barely imagine: Lower school enrollment. Sexual harassment and assault on the streets. The threat of forced marriage in childhood. Female genital cutting. Lack of access to reproductive health services. Trafficking into prostitution. The grim list goes on and on.

While many of these problems are concentrated in parts of Asia, Africa and the Mideast, we're also concerned about North America and Europe, where girls' and boys' achievement is lopsided one way, and men and women's pay is lopsided the other way.

Girls outdo boys in classrooms across the U.S. and many other industrialized countries. Yet adolescent girls and young women endure sexual harassment and sexual assault at rates higher than any other age group -- and often get blamed for this abuse.

They're bombarded with distorted, over-sexualized images of femininity in advertising and entertainment -- and at the same are prevented from accessing safe and effective birth control or abortions. The U.S. Congress and legislatures in one state after another are trying to tightten restrictions on everything from morning-after pills to abortions after rape.

And despite progress, women still can't look forward to equality in the workforce, in religion, in politics, or in sports.

As fathers and as husbands who work on women's equality programs in countries in four continents, all this outrages us.

At the same time we're encouraged to see the worldwide emergence of a new generation of fathers who equally value their daughters. We like to remember that Malala, who challenged the Taliban over her right to an education, credits her father for speaking out for girls' education and encouraging her to take a stand.

Fathers are increasingly taking on caregiving -- and not just the fun, quality time, but the slogging work time. And as we do, we provide an example to our daughters that they should expect nothing less than men who fully respect them, who support their equal rights, and who won't use violence in their relationships.

In countries once known for a "macho" attitude or uninvolved fathers, an emerging generation of dad provides a model to our sons of men who respect and value girls and women, their independence, strength, and intelligence.

So, dads, it's our daughters' day today -- and that means it's an extra father's day.



Gary Barker, Ph.D. and Michael Kaufman, Ph.D., both fathers of girls, are leaders of Men-Care.org, a new international campaign urging fathers to do 50 percent of care work. They are writing a book about the transformation of fatherhood around the world.