Strengthening Capacity for Research and Policy Engagement in Shifting Notions of Motherhood and Fatherhood for Improved Children's Wellbeing in Africa

Lead Research Organisation: Makerere University
Department Name: Women and Gender Studies


In this proposal, Makerere University (hub) intends to work with the University of Witwatersrand, University of Ibadan, Moi University, University of Rwanda and University of Western Cape (spokes) and their partners to enhance the capacity of Gender and Social Work Departments to research changing notions of motherhood and fatherhood, and to use the results to advocate for improved family and child welfare policies and interventions. The preference for Sciences in Africa led to a reduction in research funding for the Humanities and Social Sciences, negatively affecting the interest and capacity to research contemporary social challenges affecting the continent, including identities, motherhood and fatherhood.
The notions of Motherhood and Fatherhood are at the core of the debate on gender identities, socialisation, perceptions, status, realities and imaginations. These identities are created, (re)negotiated, contested, affirmed and (re)born at different levels; at family/ household level, community, cultural traditional, national and global levels. Yet motherhood and fatherhood as identities also change and transform. Symbolic representations of motherhood and fatherhood become political especially when informed by ideologies surrounding nationalisms-whether national or tribal, subsequently informing ideals about manhood, womanhood; or masculinity and femininity. Research on motherhood and fatherhood globally points to various forms of fathers and mothers. What do these forms mean or how important are these forms to fathers, mothers and subsequent proof of masculinity and femininity?
Different developments, such as colonialism, urbanisation, HIV/AIDS, war and conflict, structural adjustments and technology have reshaped and transformed the material and cultural foundations of parenting, and with it the gendered identities of motherhood and fatherhood. Nonetheless, there is a tendency to treat them as temporary and or deviant from the norm. As a result, there is a dearth of research in family studies. With a few exceptions, research in motherhood and fatherhood in Africa is undertaken as a socio-demographic variable explaining certain economic trends and as a predictor of reproductive health and child wellbeing and outcomes. Limited research has been undertaken to focus on parenting and what the identities of motherhood and fatherhood imply for those who perform them, and how they perform them. Consequently, there is limited evidence for legislators and policy makers in family relations and children's welfare to work with. With the exception of South Africa, we continue to see Family and Children's policies and laws which assume that all mothers are married and will have the support of a spouse or at least extended family.
Key questions to be examined will include the following: (1) What are the changes in motherhood and fatherhood in Africa and how does it relate to changes in femininity and masculinity? (2) What are the major drivers of these changes? (3) How best can these changes be conceptualised, studied and researched about? (4) How can researchers engage policy makers for child friendly parenting policies in view of these changes?
In this multi-disciplinary proposal, Makerere University and her six collaborators seek to explore ways to enhance the capacity of researchers to research motherhood and fatherhood, and to engage policy makers for better family and child friendly policy making and interventions. This theme is trans-disciplinary, bringing together expertise from Gender Studies, Social Work, African Studies and Ethics to generate new knowledge and build researcher's capacity through research and ethics training, doctoral and post-doctoral research support, conference presentations, workshops and publications to mention a few.

Planned Impact

The overall aim of this distinctive study is to strengthen the capacity of the ARUA CoE and partner universities in teaching, researching and policy and stakeholder engagement around changing gendered identities and their implications for children and family welfare.

Who is likely to benefit from the research?
The potential beneficiaries from this research are the vulnerable children from non-convectional families; single women/mothers; single fathers; absentee fathers, academics, policy makers, non-government organisations and society at large.

How will they benefit:
1. Vulnerable children and their families will benefit from their plight being highlighted and the ensuing social protection policies and programmes, leading to their improved well-being.
2. Single mothers and fathers will benefit from an objective representation of their plight, without further stigmatization. The acknowledgement by government and promulgation of policies sensitive to their condition will serve to end the negative stereotyping.
3. Academics (faculty and students) especially from less research intensive universities will gain from the deepened scholarship and publications on the subject of motherhood and fatherhood. It will add to the existing literature on the challenges facing Africa and how best to study and address them.
4. Also, academic participants in the project will benefit from the capacity building programmes and will learn the best ways to engage and influence policy makers and practitioners.
5. Policy makers, such as Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development will benefit from the context specific locally grounded research evidence, which will be valuable for developing locally grounded family and children policies and programmes.
6. Non-government organisations and others working in the area of gender and children will benefit from closely working with academics to conduct quality reearch but also access contemporary research evidence to guide their intervention development.
7. The different countries will benefit by the findings from this project helping them meet SDGs 1, 3, 5, 8, 10 and 11.


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