International Fatherhood Summit opens in Oxford

23 March 2003

Leading experts from around the globe meet today (March 24) at Christ Church College, Oxford for the first World Summit on Fatherhood

The week-long summit, backed by the United Nations, will be attended by 50 experts from five continents, including delegates from India, Russia, Brazil, the United States, Australia, Cameroon, Jamaica, Sweden, Israel, Turkey and Egypt. Senior UN officials will also attend.

Among the delegates is Dr Michael Lamb, from the US National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, whose research has been key in establishing the importance of father involvement to child development.

The task of the conference will be to agree a series of policy positions on how promotion of involved fatherhood can aid child health and development and gender equality globally. The results of the deliberation will be presented at the UN General Assembly next year to mark the 10th anniversary of the UN Year of the Family.

The initiative reflects increasing evidence that father involvement, from early on in a child’s life, can have significant impact on child health and educational advancement as well as improving a mother’s health and career opportunities. The conference will focus on using fathers better to tackle child poverty, poor nutrition and the HIV/ AIDS.

The summit puts Britain at the centre of international thinking on fatherhood as the Government prepares to introduce two weeks statutory paid paternity leave on April 6, the first state entitlements to be specifically targeted at fathers in the UK. Recent research from the University of East Anglia, commissioned and published by the Equal Opportunities Commission found that one third of parental childcare is now done by fathers, marking considerable generational change.

Patricia Hewitt, UK Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and Minister for Women, described the summit as a "important step forward for families" She said:

"This summit demonstrates the crucial role that fathers can play in supporting mothers both at home and at work and in promoting child development."

The summit has been organised by Fathers Direct, the UK national information centre on fatherhood and is supported financially by the Bernard Van Leer Foundation, a Dutch charity that specialises in promoting child development.

Duncan Fisher, Chief Executive of the Fathers Direct, said:

"This summit is a unique opportunity to exchange experiences from around the world about how the resources of fatherhood can be harnessed for the benefit of families. We have tended to underestimate and under-use this resource. Yet, we know that so many fathers across the globe share a common ambition to do the best they can for their children, partners and families."

The summit will provide a snapshot of fatherhood around the world. For example: 

  • A review of ethnographic reports from 156 cultures conclude that only 20% of cultures promoted men’s close relationships with infants, only 5% with young children. Men are not seen as caregivers. 
  • Many children in the world miss years of time with their father because of relationship breakdown, migrant working, death and other factors
  • Percent of childhood years spent without a father (but with mother)
    Brazil 9%; Ghana 29%; Colombia 13%; Botswana 36%; Dom. Rep. 14%;Kenya 27%; Ecuador 7%; Mali 8% Peru 9% ;Senegal 16%; Trinidad and Tobago;Zimbabwe 30% (Source: Bruce, et al 1995)
  • Fathers still contribute far less time to direct care of children than do women worldwide; however, the size of fathers’ contributions is increasing. Although there are tremendous variations across regions and among men in a given region, studies from diverse settings find that on average fathers contribute about one-third to one-fourth as much time to direct child care (Population Council, 2001) In some U.S. studies, fathers’ availability to their children has increased from about one-half of that of mothers in the 1980s to nearly two-thirds that of mothers in the 1990s (NCOFF, 2002) 
  • Some research shows that men’s psychological well being is higher the more time they spend caring for a child (e.g., Eggebein & Konester, Journal of Marriage and the Family, 2001) (Linda Haas) Involved fathers get intrinsic pleasure from seeing their children’s behaviour and development (Linda Haas) 
  • New fathers show changes in hormonal levels (decreased levels of testosterone and estradiol and increased levels of prolactin and cortisol) around the birth of their infants that resemble those in their partners (Storey et al., 2000). 
  • Experimental work shows that Israeli and American fathers recognise their infants by touching their hands after only 60 minutes of exposure, even when blindfolded (Bader & Phillips, 1999; Kaitz et al., 1994).

Notes to editors

Fathers Direct is the national information centre on fatherhood, a charity founded in 1999 to promote close and positive relationships between men and their children. It publishes the awarding-winning plus guides and provides training, conferences and briefings on fatherhood.

Fathers Direct, Herald House, Lambs Passage, Bunhill Row, London EC1Y 8TQ. 020 7920 9491.

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