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Happy Father's Day to all dads in Kenya. About 80 per cent of the world's men and boys will become fathers in their lifetime, and more as stepfathers, foster and adoptive fathers. Virtually all men have some connection to children, as relatives, teachers, coaches or simply members of the community. But there is no country in the world where men and boys share the unpaid domestic and care work equally with women and girls. Women now make up 40 per cent of the global formal workforce, yet they also continue to perform two to ten times more caregiving and domestic work than men do.
Yet many fathers want to be more involved in caregiving work, says the latest State of the World's Fathers report, researched and published by fatherhood advocacy group MenCare.
Fathers have historically provided a different kind of care for children than mothers have because of societal norms that prescribe different roles for men and women.
Not only that – economic and workplace realities reinforce these norms, and maintain a traditional division of labour at home and at work; laws and policies further cement the idea that caregiving is women's work.
Yet, the report highlights that men can also nurture and soothe young children, just as women can do things that historically have been deemed a father's role, such as playing sports with their children and providing financially for the family.In Kenya, data from the Demographic and Health Survey shows that nationally, 55 per cent of children live with both their biological parents, though living arrangements vary by region.
The data shows that the probability of having your father living in the house is slightly more likely in the urban compared to rural areas. 59 per cent of children in urban areas live with both parents, compared to 53 per cent of children in the Kenyan countryside. And surprisingly, far from Nairobi being the stereotypical bastion of single motherhood and "broken homes", it is children in Nairobi who are most likely to live with both parents, at 67 per cent, much higher than the national average of 55 per cent.
Living with both parents also has some relationship with household wealth – just under half of children from households in the lowest wealth quintile live with both parents, but in the wealthiest homes, it is up to almost 64 per cent.
About one in five (21 per cent) of Kenyan children live with their mother though their father is alive and living elsewhere, while 5.3 per cent of children live with their mothers while the father has died.
Single fatherhood is a minority family arrangement – just 3.2 per cent of Kenyan children live with only their father. The data shows it is more common in Western region (4.4 per cent), while least common Rift Valley (2.7 per cent).
A separate time use survey from three countries in Africa – South Africa, Benin and Madagascar showed that although men spend more time in wage labour and farm work, women still work outside the home while also spending much more time performing domestic duties (usually not considered "work", but they take up time all the same). It is a double workday that few men need to do, and sustained by the notion that women are 'able to multitask'.
The cumulative effect is that time as a resource is more scarce for women than for men, and ultimately women and girls are forced to forgo many opportunities.
But the State of The World's Fathers report highlights that times are changing, and increasing numbers of fathers around the world are actively involved with their children: feeding them, changing diapers, staying home with sick children, and taking their sons and daughters to school. Intrinsic capacity Emerging research presented in the report affirms that men have the same intrinsic capacity to care for children that women do.
"Men and women are born with equal capacity to care for others, including young children. We have, however, too often repressed that ability in men and boys and created social norms that discourage men and boys from caregiving," the report states. Part of the reason for this repression is our gender socialization. As children grow up, these stereotypes are continually reinforced so that girls become socialised as caring and therefore carers, learning how to clean and cook – and communicate – from an early age, while boys are sent out to play, to learn how to be tough and not to show their emotions.
A study of teenage boys in the United States found that "boys between the ages of 11 and 15 are just as sentimental and emotional about their friends as girls... But around 16 or 17 is the age when they can no longer resist the ideology of what it is to be a man ... which means being stoic, unemotional, and self-sufficient."
Men the world over, are expected to work outside the home and be providers and breadwinners, while women are expected to provide care and run the household. A 20-country World Bank study noted that "income generation for the family was the first and most likely mentioned definition of a man's role in the family and of a good husband," with domestic responsibilities overwhelmingly seen as the main feature of being a "good wife."
In addition, women themselves express doubts about whether men can be good caregivers, or as good as mothers, believing that women are simply better than men at caring for children and the home, the MenCare data suggests.
In some cases, women may also be resistant to men's caregiving, seeing the home as the one space where they have some power and control. Some wives and mothers-in-law even expressed anxiety that if men became more involved in the home, the community would view the husbands as "enslaved" or "bewitched" by their wives.
But more involved fathers is good for everyone – women, children and men themselves. MenCare says that it is an "urgent priority" that caregiving work be distributed more equally.
"When fathers take on their fair share of the unpaid care work, it can alter the nature of relationships between men and women, freeing women from some part of their double work burden and offering fathers exposure to the joys and satisfactions – and well as stresses – of caring for their children."
As of 2010, Kenya's constitution sets forth the shared responsibility of both parents to care for their children; this has opened the door for national advocacy to call for more public services that support care provision.
The Kenya Women's National Charter, for example, has demanded that government take legislative and policy measures to recognise, quantify, and place equal economic value on women's work at home.
"Taking on roles as caregivers also offers men the opportunity to begin to break free from narrow constructs of manhood and fatherhood, and to provide their sons and daughters with positive role models, improved health and development, and greater hopes for the future."
Being an involved father is good for men themselves. Research has shown that greater engagement in caregiving and fatherhood brings benefits to men's health, including reduced risk-taking and improved physical, mental, and sexual health. While not all of this hands-on care work may be immediately enjoyable, gender equality's long-term benefits for men are clear, the advocacy group concludes.