South Africa is on the “brink of becoming a fatherless nation”, and more needs to be done to correct this and “redress the public ridicule of men who perform roles traditionally performed by women”, say researchers.
Speaking at a Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) seminar this week, Dr Tawanda Makusha said the country had a high father absenteeism rate – second only to Namibia in southern Africa.
According to Andre Lewaks of Sonke Gender Justice and MenCare, a global fatherhood campaign, nearly half of the country’s children are growing up without fathers and 5 million women are single mothers. In response to this, the HSRC established the Fatherhood Project, “aimed at discussing the cultural barriers and perceptions which limit men’s involvement in reproductive health, housework and care for children”, said Makusha.
He said there was evidence of men’s failure to support their children or even acknowledge them. This, coupled with the high rate of sexual and physical violence against women and children perpetrated by men, created a general sense of suspicion about the motives of those men who did want to be involved in childcare.
“With all these negative images and perceptions of men, there is a sense of giving up on them and excluding them from parenting programmes.”
The HSRC’s Tracy Morison said research had shown that men spent an average of nine minutes a day involved in childcare.
“As women have moved into the formal sector of employment, the level of care for their children has not been affected. They bear the double burden of earning and caring, the double shift,” said Morison.
She also noted gender bias in childcare. “Parenting for women is an expectation, while for men it may be a choice. There are insidious little cues about who is really the parent.”
These included baby changing rooms being in the women’s public toilets, said Morison.
Makusha said the HSRC needed to conduct research which “challenged the stereotypes that link men to evolutionary masculinity portray men’s innate incapacity – men can’t do this – and present the ‘inexpressive male’ who is emotionless”.