“The assumption is that many men are not involved in fathering but research has shown that four out of five men are actually biological or social fathers.”
The final webinar in a four-part series considering key issues around men, masculinities and fatherhood was hosted by Heartlines, the Centre for Values Promotion, on 9 September 2020. The series was presented in partnership with the DSI-NRF Centre of Human Excellence and the National Research Foundation, and funded by the Oak Foundation.
In contrast to some of the widespread assumptions about absent fathers, webinar panellist Suleiman Henry from Sonke Gender Justice noted that many fathers who do not live with their children are still very supportive of their children. With four out of five men in South Africa playing a father role in the life of a child, whether as a biological or social father, it’s essential to better understand how to support and encourage the active, positive involvement of men in the lives of children.
Percy Ntsoane from the Department of Social Development added that where fathers express the desire to be involved in the upbringing of their child, provision of social welfare services for men needs to better accommodate this.
In discussing interventions, panellist Tawanda Makusha from the Human Sciences Research Council emphasised that context was crucial and factors such as socio-economic status needed to be taken into account in interventions for fathers. Job-seeking fathers may need a stipend or incentive of some sort to encourage attendance at workshops aimed to equip them with parenting skills, Makusha added. To illustrate this, Henry mentioned that one of the most effective incentives he has seen to encourage participation in fatherhood intervention programmes was the provision of a meal that fathers could take home to prepare for their families. “It’s important that basic needs are supported by our interventions,” he added.
Economic influences also play a role as many fathers and father figures spent time at work and commuting that kept them away from their families. Companies that offer work-from-home policies are helping give fathers more opportunities to be present with their family.
Including the voices of women and children
Another key point presented during the webinar was the need to include other voices in conversations about fatherhood; especially the perspectives of children and mothers. Henry affirmed that mothers’ participation is important because they enforce social norms.
“When men gather and realise they’re all experiencing the same thing, there’s an 'ah-ha' moment,” said Henry about encouraging fatherhood and parenting programmes to have a participative focus. He also mentioned the need to overcome negative inter-generational practices around fatherhood, which also speaks to the broader impetus to change familial and societal perceptions. Makusha echoed this, saying "People should not applaud me for spending time with my daughter. I don't need a trophy for doing this.”
While the webinar series on fatherhood in South Africa has concluded, Heartlines is in the process of developing short films focusing on the role of fathers and father figures to encourage social change and conversation around issues of fatherhood in South Africa.