Whereas the 2010 Constitution was, among other things, a gender equality moment for Kenya, in practice, fatherhood has received very little recognition. As such, many institutions, organisations, and society do not fully appreciate the role of fathers. Therefore, Father’s Day, which was celebrated worldwide a week ago, reminds all of us to celebrate and honour the men who have embraced the essential role of fatherhood.
On this day, we thank fathers and father figures for the sacrifices they make, for embracing the responsibility of nurturing and raising children, and for devotion to their family.
In this era of gender equality, it is also important to remember that as we celebrate Father’s Day, that gender equality is not only about promoting women’s equality in non-traditional spaces. It’s also about promoting men’s equality as well especially in traditional spaces. We celebrated this day weeks to an election that will in all likelihood lead to more women in decision making positions – more than a decade after the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution and attempts to legislate and realise gender equality in decision making spaces.
But the current momentum for gender equality seems to suggest that the overlooked ingredient was the role that strong male politicians can play in breaking harmful social norms and gender dynamics, and creating healthier, more equitable societies. In this election cycle, male leaders, and indeed men nationally seem to take a stand for gender equality in families and in society.
In a country where patriarchy often holds sway, it is surprisingly becoming clear that men can play a vital role in changing the conversation around gender equality. As such, fathers must be champions of equality, respect and non-violence so that their children can be witnesses for a new generation. We say this because a father’s actions are important to their sons who look up to them as role models. Thus, it is important that fathers discourage displays of violent masculinity in their sons which then positively impacts the future of society.
Equally important are conversations with their daughters, to empower and teach them that they are an essential force for positive change. In so doing, fathers will contribute to a future generation of more conscientious, equitable young people, and even help break the cycles of violence. Indeed, a growing body of evidence globally suggests that the role of fathers has critical outcomes. In particular, outcomes related to children’s cognitive, psychosocial, and educational development and gender identity as well as adolescent behavioural risk reduction rank high.
A fathers’ involvement with their children allows them to transfer family social capital, that is, moral behaviour, cooperation, collaboration, and reciprocity. The outcomes of fatherhood involvement are not limited to children’s wellbeing but is also beneficial to men themselves who experience better psychological and physical health outcomes. Therefore, the challenge of society today must be to reap the mutual gains from engaged fatherhood for families, children, and men themselves and, in the process, to advance the ideals of gender equality.
However, even before thinking of harvesting these mutual gains, Kenya must confront the threats to engaged fatherhood. This includes primarily the lack of livelihood opportunities for an increasing number of men amidst worsening economic conditions. Besides, the Covid-19 impacts created a mass of vulnerable men who not only lost their livelihoods but also their standing within the family setting. This has in turn fuelled a rise in single parent family units. The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics in 2019 estimated that 32.4 per cent of the 11.41 million households in Kenya were headed by women. Women were found to head more households in rural areas, at 36 per cent, compared to 28.7 per cent in towns
Although the outgoing administration has voiced concerns regarding the weakening of the family unit, more still needs to been done. Therefore, the incoming administration’s social and economic recovery plan including the medium term plan 4 must be aggressive enough to address the plight of vulnerable populations, including men rendered poor by impact of Covid-19.
In addition, the gender equality discourse in the country has been misconstrued to present women as the net beneficiary and men as net losers. This limited knowledge around gender equality remains one of the biggest barriers to achieving gender equality. Therefore, the knowledge on gender equality must permeate such narratives to present the lived experiences of men and women in our society and why certain actions and priorities are necessary.
The celebration of Father’s Day 2022 was, therefore, an opportune time for our country to look yonder and step into the future with confidence. Hopefully, it will usher in a new leadership that is willing to travel further to cover more ground in the quest of gender equality. As a departure from the past, the outgoing administration leaves a solid foundation of promoting equality in the home, work and market places. This work has been built on the strength of Generation Equality Forum commitments and Agenda 2030 SDGs as well as the Social pillar of the vision 2030 blue print. Therefore, in observing Father’s Day 2022, the incoming administration, post August 9th, has its gender equality agenda already cast in stone.
— Everlyne Komba is a gender specialist and board member of the Pastoralists Child Foundation.