Francisco Cervantes Islas

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Mexico
Fellow since 1998
Colectivo de Hombres por Relaciones Igualitarias (CORIAC)
This description of Francisco Cervantes Islas's work was prepared when Francisco Cervantes Islas was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998 .

Introduction

Francisco Cervantes is redefining in a positive manner the concepts of masculinity, fatherhood, and power in family relationships, providing a new image for the "macho" Mexican male.

The New Idea

The Mexican man has exercised masculinity and paternity in an authoritative way for centuries, creating tension in married couples and the family as a whole. Men have been able to reconcile this behavior with the role of provider inside the home, but this family structure has had many negative ramifications in the well-being of their partners and children. Daily life in Mexico is changing considerably, to the point where men do not always play the role of the provider, and thus have fewer reasons to exercise authority. At the same time, women have become involved in the social and economic life of the country, and children too are now more independent. Frustration at the loss of their traditional role often leads men to physical and emotional mistreatment of partners or children.In response to this problem, Francisco Cervantes is developing methodologies to work with men, to question and redefine masculinity so that the genders can coexist in harmony and end the negative consequences that traditional machismo has produced. He leads workshops and is developing materials and a staff which can propagate his work. Francisco's goal is to help men play a positive role in the lives of their partners and children. CORIAC (Men's Collective for Equal Relations), the organization which Francisco founded, is a pioneering group which leads programs for men who recognize their violent behavior. Francisco, working with this group and also striking out on his own to reach other groups of men, promotes fatherhood with workshops, models and manuals to help fathers play a positive role in the growth of their children.Every year Francisco has organized more institutions, both Mexican and international, to celebrate Fathers' Day in different forms such as conferences, forums, fairs, and days at work, advocating a law for parental leave for fathers. His organization also conducts photography and children's drawing courses that promote new images of fatherhood. Francisco's work is characterized by its wide field of action, which emphasizes the development of the emotional experiences of the men and an understanding of how they deal with masculinity and fatherhood.

The Problem

Deficient fatherhood is a social problem that is neither well understood nor adequately addressed. Although there are fathers who can and do have a positive influence in the lives of their sons and daughters, many researchers have recognized that men often do not distinguish themselves as the responsible, committed fathers they should be. The limited participation of fathers in family life is illustrated by the fact that as many as 25% of Mexican households are headed by women. Approximately 30% of the married couples in Mexico City later separate, usually leaving the children with the mother. According to the Agency for Family Development, half of all Mexican men resort to violence in the home.

In the great majority of domestic violence cases (90%) the aggressor is the father. The Human Rights Commission of Mexico City reported that from 1997 to 1998 accusations of child abuse rose 50%. More than 80% of women who suffer from domestic violence were victims on multiple occasions. Even in families without a violent father, economic pressures often force the man to move away to find work, depriving the child of his attention. These data make clear that fatherhood is not always exercised in a responsible or committed manner, leaving children poorly adjusted, at the very least. The emotional impact, the resentment of bad treatment, and the effects on health and self-esteem, school performance, and productivity, influence the development of children and the society as a whole.

A further concern is the lack of methodological approaches to recognize and transform 'macho' identities and practices that have been designed and tested with men in mind. While responsible fatherhood has always been an important issue, it is particularly salient now given the high and growing unemployment, and the change in gender roles that is being driven by women's participation in the workforce. Men who are inflexible in their attitudes towards gender roles may express their frustration in violence, destroying marriages and families. If they can assume other fatherly roles as well as those of the provider - which they may not be able to fulfill as they would like - and modify authoritarian habits in the house, they could help alleviate other individual, family and social problems.

The Strategy

In response to the lack of strategies designed to address a healthy role for men at home and work, and with their children, Francisco has developed an ambitious strategy. First, he is developing four workshops based on significant periods in fatherhood: for men about to become fathers, men with children up to 12 years old, men with children over 12 years old, and men who are becoming grandfathers. Each contains 16 sessions in which the experience of these fathers is discussed, followed by the needs and challenges they face in that stage, and a set of activities designed to work on these specific needs. Methodologically, the workshops consist of several steps. Francisco helps fathers to recognize that traditional paradigms of fatherhood are harming the family. He tries to develop a desire to change for the better, encouraging them to visualize the benefits of better family relationships and allowing them to generate their own proposals for change. Finally, Francisco encourages the men to put their new modes of behavior into practice and to establish a family environment that will prevent a regression into excessive "machismo."

Francisco plans to continue his annual campaign for a new type of Fathers' Day celebration. He has been organizing events on this theme for four years, and wants to increase the number of organizations and places that participate. Francisco hopes that the event will be national within five years. He is training other people to promulgate his work, with the goal of replicating strategies for intervention. He plans three training sessions addressing social workers and others who work with families and parents, to share and spread the methods he develops through the workshops that form the first phase of his project. Francisco will continue to develop teaching materials for his training and follow-up sessions. He has already spread his work through written guides, but plans to accompany them with video and audio cassettes. To finance this he is looking for publishing houses that have a Latin American reach, which can help him influence people at the international level.

As his most ambitious goal, Francisco plans a national event, inviting people from all over the country to share experiences working with the subject of fatherhood. Such an event would also serve as a vehicle for the diffusion of his training materials and methodologies. Francisco wants to develop an Internet site to exchange experiences and materials about fatherhood, using as a medium the Internet bulletin of CORIAC. He has worked in two child development centers with population totals of 200 children, but also gives workshops in different institutions to groups such as educators, psychologists, and social workers. His Father's Day celebrations get more assistance from the public each year, and he now has support from approximately 450 people.

Francisco's project is financed through the "Couples and Fatherhood" project of CORIAC. Until now his program has relied on the financial support of UNICEF, the National Commission on the Woman, the participation of the Agency for Family Development, Health and Gender, the Program on Reproductive Health and Society of the College of Mexico, the Population Council, the Commission of Equity and Gender of the Chamber of Deputies and the participation of other institutions and invited experts. In addition to this support, activities like the workshops are financed with small attendance fees. The program also relies on considerable human resources from CORIAC, including an administrative coordinator, several assistants that work on specific projects, a gender specialist who elaborates the theoretical framework, an instructor with whom Francisco conducts the workshops, and a specialist in surveys who plans research.

The Person

Francisco studied Psychology at the Autonomous National University of Mexico and later specialized in Women's Studies at the Autonomous Metropolitan University. His interest in themes of masculinity, femininity, and sexuality drove him to attend any course, conference, or workshop that he could. Doing this helped him reflect on his own masculinity and the ways his behavior influenced others. After taking a woman friend who had been sexually abused to a meeting of the Mexican Association Against Violence Towards Women, Francisco stayed and worked there for eight years, helping women who had been raped, sexually abused, or were the victims of domestic violence. Later he worked as a counselor for violent men for five years. For the last three years, however, Francisco has devoted himself specifically to work on the subject of fatherhood. While expecting the birth of his second child, Francisco attended a workshop which made him reflect on his own behavior and childhood experiences. He began to think about his own fatherhood more intensely, and became interested in working to help other men eliminate negative behavior that harms their relations with wives and children.