The Ugandan Father’s Place in Child-Care

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The bleak reality of paternal child-care involvement is one experienced in most countries in the world; even those seen as progressive in their policies and in the views of their male populations are far from achieving truly egalitarian gender ideologies. Uganda is no exception. Indeed, a 2009 survey conducted by Oxfam GB found that, of the rural and urban Ugandan men interviewed, only 50% provided any child-care for their children; of these men, only 7.3% did so because they felt it was their responsibility and that anything else would be unfair to their wives. The traditional perceptions of gender roles within Ugandan society are only exacerbated further by the policies in place; although Ugandan women have had the right to at least 6 weeks of maternal leave under the Maternity Protection Convention of 1952, a rare few international organizations provide a paltry 5-day paternity leave. Even those with the option have expressed that such leave is not feasible; their economic realities prohibit any time away from work.

Uganda’s male population, then, is not only inhibited from greater participation in their children’s upbringing by the social context that they operate within, but also by the country’s governmental legislation and workplace culture. This participation, however, is not without nuance; there are definite disparities between different men. Those working in the formal sector, for example, are more likely to involve themselves in child rearing processes. Most of the fathers of the opinion that men should be exempt from all child care, 84% were employed in the informal sector. What can account for different levels of involvement between Ugandan fathers? According to a study conducted by the National Council on Family Relations, the foremost factors are the father’s occupation; the wife’s employment; access to paternity leave; father’s work and time; father’s confidence in their parenting skills; education and paternal involvement in child-care; marital satisfaction; and encouragement by spouse. The greater the father’s level of education, access to paternity leave, amount of spare time, confidence in their parenting abilities and marital satisfaction, the more motivated a father becomes to participate in their children’s lives. The higher level of education, number of available formal-sector occupations and amount of spare time as a result of higher living conditions can also help account for the increased participation of urban fathers in comparison with their rural counterparts.

Regardless of the particularities of these factors, they are all founded within a gendered context. To tackle a strong culture of unavailable fathers, gender ideologies must first change. Indeed, this is understood by many of the wives interviewed; many have simply stopped soliciting help from their spouses because of the knowledge that they will not listen, that they do not consider it their responsibility. Slowly, as Ugandan women enter the paid labour force in increasing numbers, these cultural norms are shifting, though not without resistance. Indeed, maternal employment was often mentioned as a cause of marital tension amongst interviewees, for example, and mothers who earned higher incomes than their spouses were more likely to bear the burden of child-care. Regardless, as the employment of both parents becomes increasingly necessary in a fast paced world economy, survival depends more and more on adaptation; traditional gender roles must give way to the future.

By

Zahra Jaffer, WOUGNET Gender Policy Intern

Mcgill University Canada