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Fathers must be present for their children

Stereotypes about fatherhood have to change if we want to stop Gender-Based Violence

Our world is full of stereotypes. One of the most widespread and often damaging is what it means to be a father.

According to non-profit organisation Sonke Gender Justice, many of us grow up to believe that a father’s place is outside the house, he is the breadwinner, must not show emotion and should not show his partner or child love in public.

Many also believe a father does not need to be present at the birth of his child and does not need to bond with his children from a young age. He leaves this to the child’s mother, as he believes she is better suited to this work.

In turn, these beliefs tell mothers that their place is in the home, and they have special intuition about children that men don’t have. It tells both men and women that they should not question these differences. And, when their differences twist and mutate in the form of Gender-Based Violence (GBV), it tells them to accept this too.

These stereotypes have to change.

The MenCare+ programme was implemented by partner and global co-coordinator Sonke Gender Justice, to tackle these suffocating stereotypes that can lead to GBV and other forms of abuse.

The programme runs in and around Cape Town and focuses on men, fatherhood and gender equality, by transforming harmful gender attitudes and improving men’s care-giving and fatherhood skills.

The target population is mostly fathers, but sometimes mothers and other caregivers also join. The programme consists of 12 sessions in which participants discuss and share their experiences related to care-giving, fatherhood, gender roles, sexual and reproductive health, family planning and non-violent parenting. Trainers encourage participants to become actively involved in raising their children, supporting their partners and sharing the work at home.

The MenCare Childcare and Protection Programme Brief states that engaged, responsive fatherhood and men’s participation in their children’s lives is positive for children, women and men themselves.

A father’s positive involvement benefits a child’s outcomes in various areas, from physical to socio-emotional development and academic achievement. Mothers, who are supported by their child’s father, experience greater satisfaction from their parenting roles, have lower levels of stress and are less likely to suffer mental health problems.

Supportive fathers not only contribute to the mother’s wellbeing and happiness, but studies have shown that fathers can buffer children against abuse and neglect. However, high rates of male violence and popular perceptions have helped normalise the view that men should be violent and uninvolved.

The State of South Africa’s Fathers 2018 report highlights the importance of father involvement, irrespective of marital or residence status, and makes special mention of the importance of social fathers – men who are not the child’s biological father, but who still play important roles in the child’s life.

Parenting interventions like MenCare South Africa are critical to reinforce positive attitudes and shift negative perceptions of fatherhood, by acknowledging that men, particularly fathers, and mothers and children all benefit from holistic programmes that focus on paternal, maternal and child health; sexual and reproductive health and rights; and GBV.

According to the Global State of the World’s Fathers Report, the gap between the time spent on childcare between men and women globally is 50 minutes. However, in South Africa, this gap is even wider. According to the State of South Africa’s Fathers Report 2019, for each hour that a man spends on unpaid care work, including childcare, a woman spends eight hours of equivalent work.

Earlier this year UNICEF South Africa Child Protection Officer Gloria Khoza showcased the work that UNICEF has been doing to engage and educate fathers on the importance of childcare and in strengthening the social welfare workforce in the rollout of the MenCare Child Protection Programme.

This entailed UNICEF supporting the training of 110 social workers across five provinces and 26 child and youth care workers in the Eastern Cape. According to Khoza, the initiative has shown promising findings in the shift in attitude towards men’s involvement in childcare and a reduction of the use of violence within affected households.