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The Three Ps: Patriarchy, Paternalism and Parenting

Changing norms in a new era for the African child

by guest blogger Gabriel Massaquoi - SGUW Intern


On this year’s Day of the African Child let us reflect on how these three concepts are related, how they impact children and how they may be changing across the continent.

P #1- Patriarchy

Patriarchy is an embedded belief-system in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. It is a social system where men control a disproportionately large share of social, economic, political and religious power.

#2 P- Paternalism

Paternalism is the act of restricting someone's freedom and autonomy by making decisions for them under the guise of a protective intent meant to benefit them. It is understood to limit the beneficiary’s personal choices, autonomy and freedom and is a form of oppression. A current example of governmental paternalism is mandated limits on women’s reproductive healthcare meant to protect women which in fact limit women’s freedom of personal and physical autonomy and well-being.

#3 – Parenting

Making choices and taking actions that protect and satisfy the needs of children.

In Africa, patriarchy, paternalism and parenting are inter-related and act to reinforce the marginalization and subjugation of women and girls from an early age. Conversely, all three concepts also limit men and boys options to participate more fully in the rearing of children and familial matters often relegated to women and girls in patriarchal societies. [Just as an aside, everyone in the world lives in a patriarchal society to varying extent.]

Patriarchy is not about hatred toward women but, it is about men being treated as superior to women in every aspect of society. Patriarchy does not mean men are evil but, it does make women feel inferior and incompetent in decision-making even when it’s pertaining to their own happiness and well-being, that’s paternalism embedded within overall patriarchal norms.

In patriarchal societies, women have historically been responsible for parenting or raising children. In general, men have held more public, economic and political authority, while women's duties have been more focused on the home and family life. The gendered nature of the role of parent reflects the broader gender roles and power dynamics of a patriarchal society. And, even though women are the dominant care taker, their parenting reflects and reinforces patriarchal norms. Women are also part of the patriarchy as a system. They teach it to the next generation just as men do.

These strictly gendered roles in African society continue to shape the parenting of both genders.

In recent years, there has been a growing societal shift towards more equitable distribution of childcare duties between mothers and fathers- to varying degrees in countries across Africa and the world. This shift is due to a number of powerful social and economic changes including; recognition of the positive effect on children to have involved parents of both genders; changes in employment dynamics, allowing- even demanding- that women work outside the home for the well-being of herself and  family; and, the spread of the women's rights movement across the globe.

This transition to more equitable child care division is not complete and there has been backlash. In general, mothers are still expected to provide the majority of care while fathers play an increasingly active role. Fathers may also find it difficult to participate equally in childcare due to workplace and social prejudices and policies that act as barriers to parenting equity.

In the end, the relationship between paternalism and raising children is a complex and developing subject. Though much progress has been made in the direction of more gender-equal parenting roles, gendered norms continue to have an impact. As our culture continues to shift toward gender equity in all roles we should push for continued, effective legislative changes that support these shifts.

June 16th, Day of the African Child

The purpose of this day is to remember the schoolchildren who took part in the Soweto Uprising and to increase awareness of the continued need to enhance African children's welfare and education. It draws attention to problems including child rights, access to high-quality education, and the difficulties African children experience due to discrimination, poverty, and violent conflict. Events and activities are planned all over the continent to support policies and programs that advance the growth and welfare of African children as well as to advocate for the rights of children.

The time is now to think about and implement changes in the parenting domain that reflect the social shift toward gender equity. We need programs and policies that educate parents of young children about the limiting nature of strict gender roles prescribed in a patriarchal society. We should provide new parents with information about the structures and norms that limit the capacity of both boys and girls in a patriarchy. Parents should be able to make informed decisions for the good of their children without regard to old, entrenched thinking that reinforces ideas of superiority and inferiority within our most important social unit- the family.

This is the time for all of Africa’s children to advance and fulfill their fullest potential without prejudices and stereotypes. We are in an era of change in the social structures of society and parenting should reflect those changes.

By: Gabriel Massaquoi

SGUW Intern, Summer, 2024

Advocate and supporter of women's empowerment.

Final Year (Hons 2) student pursuing Gender and Development Studies at Fourah Bay College (FBC), University of Sierra Leone (USL).

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