The yoke of parenthood has, in Malawi, practically been placed on women due to old-age traditions steeped in patriarchy. But this is the 21st century and things are changing with more men pushing the frontiers to play their roles in raising children. In this Friday Shaker, MACDONALD THOM chronicles amazing stories of how some fathers are defying stereotypes on fatherhood by sharing responsibilities of taking care of children.
Ali Wilson from Group Village Head Masuku, Traditional Authority Bwananyambi in Mangochi District, has two children, four-year-old Nasudin and six-year-old Alima. When his wife, Meria Anafi, fell pregnant for the first time, Wilson escorted her to an antenatal clinic.
He took part in the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme. He did the same when Meria also became pregnant with the second child.
“Health workers encourage us to play a part in caring for our children. I am always happy to accompany my wife to antenatal clinic. I am also always together with the children as they are growing,” he says.
But his action has left many people in his community mouth agape. They questioned what Wilson was doing, which, according to belief in the community, are feminine responsibilities.
But Wilson insists that the world is changing and the same should be reflected in the roles men play in raising children.
“It is something good to be by your wife’s side and take care of the children. Of course, there are some people who think that it is a sign of weakness on the part of men. But the world is changing. Everyone has to take a role in the upbringing of children,” he adds.
As people were busy mocking him, Meria was happy with her husband. She decided to ignore what the people were saying about him.
“I am happy to see my husband taking children to the hospital. That gives me a chance to do other household chores,” she says.
Muhammad Kachere, who lives close to Jalasi Health Centre in the district has also been assisting his wife with various assignments. He says although some people discourage him, his desire to play a full role in parenting motivates him. He ignores the discouragement or the taunts he gets in some cases.
“I enjoy taking part in caring for my children. It is not demeaning at all. I feel satisfied in taking my children to the hospital. Some even say I am under a spell, but I just ignore them. I am old enough and know what is good and what is right,” Kachere says.
His 13-year-old son, Sheriff, and seven-year-old daughter, Mary, enjoy the love from their father, just as they do from the love their mother gives them.
Ellen Mwatseteza, Nurse- Midwife Technician at Jalasi Health Centre says involving males in taking care of children is being encouraged in the area. She says this helps in making sure that children grow into productive citizens.
“There is need for male involvement in preparation of birth, for prevention of mother to child HIV trasmission services. Currently, we have low involvement of men. For example, out of 70 women attending antenatal services, only 10 males accompany their wives to the clinic. But is important that men have to be involved at all levels,” she says.
Group Village Head (GVH) Masuku says he encourages men to assist women in taking care of children. He says although this is hard considering the cultural context, the efforts are now yielding results.
“In the past, men used to believe that they are the heads of their families. They were not sparing time to look after their children and spouses. They have agreed that things have changed. And they have accepted the change. Apart from believing that the man is the head of the family, now they are saying a woman is also the head. They have to work together,” GVH Masuku says.
He adds: “We have changed our culture now. As you may be aware, Mangochi is a predominantly matrilineal society. All along, men have been taking care of their sisters’ children not theirs. But because of the change, people have started realising that it is important to take care of their children.”
Target Number 4 of Sustainable Development Goal 5 is to recognise and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate.
Muhammad Shahid Hanif, Early Childhood Development Specialist at Unicef Malawi, says fathers have a big role to play in raising children.
“Fathers are just as critical to children’s early development as mothers, yet their role is often underutilised. Research shows that positive interactions with fathers allow children to have better psychological health and life satisfaction in the future.
“When fathers nurture their young ones in their earliest years of life – by providing love and protection, playing with them and supporting their nutrition – their children will learn better, have less behavioural issues, and become healthier, happier human beings,” he says.
Director of Child Affairs in the Ministry of Gender Children Disability and Social Welfare, McKnight Kalanda, says government is committed to promoting the rights of children by implementing programmes that will look into their welfare.
He says government and other partners are constructing and, in some cases, improving Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres.
“The ministry releases some funds to councils to improve ECD centres. Last year, we released funds to councils to improve 25 centres. In some cases, members of Parliament, construct ECD centres using resources from the Constituency Development Fund. Some councils may also decide to use resources from the District Development Fund,” he says.
Kalanda also says from 2019 to 2024, government is implementing a project called “Investing in Early Years” through which, among others, it intends to construct 250 centres in 10 districts.
On May 8, 2019, United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, released a report on the progress towards SDGs.
In the report, Guterres notes that, while some indicators of gender equality are progressing, such as a significant decline in the prevalence of female genital mutilation and early marriage, overall numbers continue to be high.
He observes that insufficient progress on structural issues at the root of gender inequality, such as legal discrimination, unfair social norms and attitudes, decision-making on sexual and reproductive issues and low levels of political participation, are undermining the ability to achieve SDG 5.
What is happening in Mangochi, may be challenging “unfair social norms and attitudes”.
A vibrant writer who gives a great insight on hot topics and issues