A study in rural Ghana has explored some of the cultural beliefs that run counter to the involvement of fathers in caring and domestic activity.
Focus groups and interviews with 25 men and 5 community health officers were organised in the Awutu-Senya West District. The group was mixed – married, cohabiting, monogamous, polygamous, Christian and Muslim.
The study revealed that traditional attitudes discouraging male involvement are less influential on younger and more educated couples; also on fathers who are Christian and who are in monogamous relationships. Some fathers do not consider traditional views as a reason not to support mother and baby in practical ways as well as financial.
Household chores were a hot topic of debate in the focus groups. Men who engage in housework can be ridiculed, including by women. One name for such men is “okotobonku” – playing the role of a woman. Another word to describe these men is “tok-tok” – stupid. In some cases, men who do this are regarded as bewitched by their wives by means of a love potion.
Such ridicule, according to one of the men, undermines a man’s role in the community:
“As a man and the head of the family, you need to protect these norms and have the respect to be able to train your children. Because if the community members do not respect you, your children may also not respect you and you cannot control them.”
On the other hand, another man reacted quite differently:
“It is the life of the unborn child and that of the mother that matters and not what my wife or the society says.”
Farming work was held up by some as a reason for not being able to be involved, though this was flatly contradicted by others:
“If you delay working on your farm, you may plant late and lose when the rains cease.”
“We farm to feed our wives and children. So, what is the sense in making higher yields and losing your wife of child or both during pregnancy or childbirth because we did not care to help them?”
One belief gets in the way of men attending antenatal facilities: the idea that they are doing it because they don’t trust the woman to spend wisely the money she has been given for maternal healthcare. Names for such men include “pepei” or “iron-handed man” – being stingy with money. Some men argued that, in order to preserve harmony, they should keep out of any involvement whatsoever.
Another way some men help, whilst remaining in traditional roles, is in the building of local health facilities.
The study shows how fragile cultural beliefs are, subject to disagreement and change over time. Health services need to consider these influences and work to promote engaged fatherhood as a social norm. The study also shows that women as well as men need to be addressed in culture change efforts.
Bougangue B & Ling HK (2017), Male involvement in maternal healthcare through community-based health planning and services: the views of the men in rural Ghana, BMC Public Health 17
Photo: jrwebbe. Creative Commons.