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Men can care - creating a toolkit of ideas appropriate for a deep rural context for engaging men in the care of young children

Our idea is to develop a toolkit of participatory approaches that can be used to engage men further in the lives of young children. The toolkit will be developed with men who already work as supporters of caregivers of children under five in an ECD programme in Mozambique. We work in a deep rural context where there are few mobile phones and limited phone network, many adults cannot read and there is no electricity. The toolkit will therefore be based on face-to-face interactive approaches such as participatory theatre, picture codes, storytelling, posters and songs. We hope that this toolkit could be adapted for use in other ECD programmes in Africa and beyond.

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We need to find ways to engage fathers, uncles, older brothers and grandfathers in the care of young children if we are to improve developmental outcomes for children under five. We have been working in rural Mozambique with community-selected volunteers who have been trained to be good advisors (called, Masungukate in the local Xitswa language) to caregivers of children under five. Some of the people the community selected where men (Masungudhoda). As we have reflected on the role these men are beginning to play in the community we have seen the potential of male role-models and animators.

Our work (in the CARE International, Inhambane ECD programme) in Mozambique has taught us the importance of cultural context and a respect for traditional child-rearing practices. We would like to explore the role men have and do play in the lives of children in a deep rural context and then develop a strategy for engaging men further. We aim to build this work on the (often now fading) positive traditional role that men have played in the lives of young children. But also to encourage men to become involved in a way that is in line with recent theory on child development.
 
We think that the Masungudhoda (good advisors selected by community members to support caregivers of young children) we work with are wonderfully placed to begin exploring this idea. We would like to develop the strategy in a participatory way with them and the communities they serve. We anticipate the strategy being expressed through a toolkit of materials and interactive processes such as participatory theatre, picture codes, storytelling, posters and songs that users and practitioners can select and adapt based on their context.

Working with the existing Masungudhoda in our two project areas in Mozambique, we plan to undertake a research phase. We have identified a number of research questions. These include:
  • what men already do to care for their children
  • how men feel about their role and relationship with their children
  • how caring fits in with men’s perceptions of masculinity
  • what socialisation exists in these communities around the role of men in the family and what impact this has on men and children  
  • how absent fathers can be involved in their children’s lives
  • what children feel about their father’s roles in their lives
  • how women would like men to be involved in their children’s lives
  • how are the Masungudhoda presently engaging men and what impact has this had 

Apart from these questions about men’s roles in the care of children we are sure that our research phase will lead us to understand communicative approaches that men are already exposed to in their communities. We will build on these in developing the strategy and toolkit. 
 
Our initial idea (based on the existing work of the Masungudhoda) is to get men more involved in children’s daily activities and their care. We also want to focus on how men can engage with children through play and how we can encourage power-sharing between men and women in relation to children in the home. Of course our research phase may change this focus.
 
We would then use our research to develop a strategy for engaging men. Then we would communicate this strategy through a toolkit of different materials. This toolkit would be piloted as it is developed in a participatory way similar to that we have used in the development of our existing ECD home visiting programme.

Who will benefit from this idea and where are they located?

This idea will benefit the communities we work with in Inhambane Province in Mozambique initially. But it could also potentially benefit all programmes working in rural areas in Africa (and possibly also beyond that) as they attempt to involve men in the lives of young children. We would link to and feed into the global MenEngage network of NGOs.

How could you test this idea in a quick and low-cost way right now?

We could test this idea right away by asking some of the Masungudhoda we work with to hold some discussion groups with men in their communities. We could then try out some of the ideas that come out of this process to engage men. We also have an existing partnership with the NGO, HOPEM (Men for Change) in Mozambique. We would like to engage them in the development and implementation of this idea. They are part of the MenEngage global network – a link to this network will be an important part of our initial plan as we know we can learn much from their work in this area.

What kind of help would you need to make your idea real?

It would be very useful to engage with programmes that have already tried to engage men as caregivers to find out what they have learned. Feedback from all other implementing programmes within the OpenIDEO community would also be useful. Advice from toolkit developers would also be useful. We would also welcome interaction with other programmes working with men as carers.

Is this an idea that you or your organization would like to take forward?

  • Yes. I am ready and interested in testing this idea and making it real in my community.

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