Global Initiative to Support Parents (GISP) | Breaking Stereotypes: A Conversation with UNICEF Ghana on Parenting and Gender Roles

March 8, 2024 – On March 8, we recognize International Women’s Day, a day that has been marked on the global calendar since 1911. This day recognizes women’s multi-faceted roles in society, which may include parenting and caregiving. Allied to this is the recognition that there is still much work to be done to advance gender equity in parenting and society. Gender-transformative parenting interventions can play a significant role in promoting positive gender norms and more gender-equitable caregiving for children. 

The theme for 2024 is “Inspire Inclusion” to promote the value that women can bring when their voices are actively included and respected in communities and society. It also recognizes that the concept of inclusion may need to be promoted to women to better empower and inspire them. Through including women, their unique value can be harnessed, and all of society benefits. 

Particularly, women need support in their role as mothers. When women are supported, they are better able to offer children warm, sensitive, and responsive care. This support can come in different ways, including from fathers and the community, who recognize that when mothers are supported, children—and the community—benefit. When mothers are supported, they are better able to take care of themselves physically and mentally, which provides them with greater capacity to parent well. 

Fathers also play a big role in providing this support to mothers. However, gender norms are still biased toward the traditional roles played by men and women. Gender-transformative parenting interventions can help promote more gender-equitable parenting, thereby raising fathers’ parenting skills and encouraging fathers to support mothers and children. Such interventions can help shift social norms, promoting a more gender-equitable society. 

The Global Initiative to Support Parents (GISP) recently engaged with Emmanuel Nyarko-Tetteh, child protection specialist from UNICEF Ghana, to explore gender-transformative parenting interventions: 

  • Question: How do children benefit from fathers being more involved in parenting? 

Nyarko-Tetteh: We know from attachment theory and research that children want to be near to their primary caregivers. When parents are sensitive to the needs of their children, they can facilitate the development of a secure and positive parent-child relationship. When fathers (or the father figure) are involved in the parenting of their children, it helps children develop a secure attachment. This provides another level of comfort and security for children and helps to meet children’s needs in a timely way. 

  • How do fathers benefit from being more involved in parenting?

When children get to know their father, they no longer see him as a stranger. In this way, the father feels the child’s love, and likewise, the child knows the father loves them. Importantly, when fathers are more involved, mothers also benefit. Mothers are not solely responsible for the child’s welfare and well-being. This shared responsibility can also help the mother and the child feel loved and supported, which can strengthen the mother-father relationship as well as the overall child-parent relationship. 

  • How do mothers’ benefit when fathers are more involved in parenting?

As stated above, when the father is more involved in parenting, the mother no longer carries the burden of caring for the child alone. She also feels more loved and supported by her partner. When the mother has this support from the father, she is less stressed and better able to attend to her own needs too. This contributes to improved mental well-being, leading to improved well-being and mental health of children themselves. 

  • For the communities in which you work, what is the influence of gender norms on parenting?

The patriarchal nature of our society is a big factor. The traditional belief is that it is a woman’s role to care for children. In some communities, girls and boys are socialized differently. For example, some tribes socialize girls from infancy to accept that they must serve boys and men, and boys are socialized to expect this from girls. Our society is still conservative and slow to accept changes, so gender stereotyping plays a key role. Low levels of literacy also play a role in how we can sensitize and educate the community. 

  • What are some of the specific challenges faced by parents with respect to gender-equitable parenting?

There is a perception that certain chores and roles are preserved for women alone. A man who is willing to step in and help might fear that his community will laugh at him. This is particularly the case for couples who live in what is known as a compound house or with their extended family. In these settings, different households share the same living space and can see what other couples and families are doing. Men worry that when they support their wives, they will be called names by other men, names such as barima koto bunkum, which is a derogatory expression to mean a “weak man” in the Fanti dialect. Other tribes have similar expressions. Another common fear is that they’re seen to be controlled by their wives or women. This is a big fear and prevents men from being more active in parenting. 

  • What are important elements of successful gender-transformative parenting initiatives?

As UNICEF, we have assisted the government of Ghana to develop toolkits to engage communities. We recognize that working with the community to shift the gender and social norms and attitudes of parents and caregivers is important if we are going to achieve our goals. We work closely with faith-based organizations that reach the Christian and Muslim communities. We think it is especially important to target young adults, who have the potential to adopt new behaviors and change social norms.

  • Can you provide detailed examples of innovative approaches or successful strategies for parenting initiatives offered to fathers?

We use flashcards from the toolkits used for community engagement in reflective dialogue on child and adolescent protection issues. We use them to generate discussions on topics such as “Who Does What?” We also analyze the roles played by boys and girls in the community and discuss everyday issues such as who plants maize in the community or how each person can be a community advocate for change. We make the discussion relevant to each community member. We use flashcards as conversation starters to engage men, boys, and the entire community. 

  • Name of person responding: Emmanuel Nyarko-Tetteh
  • Role: Child Protection Specialist
  • Organization: UNICEF
  • Contact details: enyarko@unicef.org