When I talk about the special role of women and girls in development—and I do that a lot—it leaves open the question of what I think about men and boys.
For example, I routinely point out that mothers prioritize investing in their children’s health and education.
One could extrapolate that fathers waste their money on frivolous things. (Unfortunately, data suggests they sometimes do.)
I say the love mothers feel for their children is universal.
Am I implying that fathers don’t share in this love? (Absolutely not. Mothers don’t have the monopoly on love.)
I am in awe of the courage girls show when they fight for empowerment.
Does it follow that husbands don’t support their wives’ empowerment? (Not necessarily. Over time, we are seeing more men encourage women’s empowerment at home and in their communities.)
As Father’s Day approaches, I want to pay tribute to all the fathers who share the hopes and dreams of their wives and daughters, and, in so doing, help drive development.
Last year, in Pekine, a slum outside of Dakar, Senegal, I met Ouleye Dia, the mother of seven children, including 2-year-old twins. I’ve told stories about Ouleye—about her struggles raising her family, about her love for every one of her children, and about her resourcefulness in giving them the best she can.
I have not mentioned Bokar Sow, Ouleye’s husband. The entire time I was in their home, the 2-year-old boy stuck to Bokar like glue. Bokar held his son, smoothed his hair, and whispered to him throughout my visit.
Ouleye and Bokar face a challenge in giving their children a chance at a better future—and they are facing it together.
As I travel, I see signs that as women are fighting to change their roles, men are recognizing that empowered women have a positive impact on communities. For instance, I can’t count how many stories I’ve heard from husbands who once opposed contraceptives for their wives but eventually came to see the importance of planning their families.
At a big women’s health conference last week (Women Deliver), I had the privilege of presenting awards to three young advocates making a difference for women around the world. One of the awardees was Remmy Shawa. As a teenage boy in Zambia, Remmy volunteered with an HIV prevention project.
Meeting with Remmy Shawa at the Women Deliver conference last month.
Over time, he made the connection between the HIV epidemic and gender inequality. At college, he created an organization working with men and boys to end violence against women. Now, at 25, he’s working on gender equity full-time.
Remmy is extraordinary, but I hope what he stands for will become ordinary: Men and boys working together with women and girls to make life better for everybody.
Happy Father’s Day to Bokar Sow and all the fathers out there making life better for their families. (And, of course, to the very special fathers in my own family.)