Transforming gender relations? : Men’s involvement in care for their partners and households at the time of pregnancy in rural and urban Ghana – a qualitative study
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Abstract Background to the study Involving men in the care for their pregnant partners has been described as an opportunity for initiating new fatherhood norms and masculinities that do not thrive on the subordination of women. This understanding implies that male inclusion in the care for pregnant partners could inspire more gender-equal practices. Starting with a brief historical account of family structures and gender orders, the study focuses on current trends in household gender relations and masculine expectations in Ghana to analyse the gender-transformative potential of men’s involvement in the care for their pregnant partners. Study aims This study was guided by the following aims, which were addressed in three peer-reviewed articles: to explore how social expectations and actual practices of fatherhood interact with conceptions and norms of manhood and masculinity; to shed light on men’s experiences of antenatal care services and how these experiences are influenced by hegemonic masculine expectations and the gendered construction of space; to investigate how increased male participation in domestic work during pregnancy relate to and possibly challenge cultural expectations of manhood and womanhood. Methods A qualitative study combining phenomenological and ethnographic approaches was conducted in Accra and the Afram Plains North District of Ghana. Thirty-one semistructured interviews with fathers, mothers, health workers and background informants, seven focus group discussions with mothers, fathers and community health nurses, and various observations over seven months in Accra and one month in Afram Plains were conducted. Semistructured interviews and focus group discussions used a topic guide that centred on the following key areas: fatherhood and masculine norms and expectations in the Ghanaian social context; men’s roles and responsibilities during pregnancy; men’s practical daily routines during the time of pregnancy; men’s experiences of maternal health services; and social support for expecting nuclear families. Thematic analysis was used to process and analyse the data material. Findings Article I This first article explores the transition of young men from boyhood to manhood and its connections to the expectations of becoming and being a father. The findings were framed within the analytical discussion of hegemonic masculinity, postcolonial perspectives of masculinities in Africa, and emergent masculinities. The findings showed that boys are expected to become men by maintaining intimate relationships, providing for their nuclear families and kin, and having biological children. This expectation was described as synonymous with what postcolonial scholars have called adult masculinity. The article further argued that since adult masculinity appeared to be highly valued by the young fathers studied, it could be referred to as the hegemonic masculinity. The narratives additionally indicated that it is becoming expected for men to carry out household chores, show respect and affection for their partners and spend time with their nuclear families. These additional expectations were analysed as elements of involved fatherhood and emergent masculinities. Article II This second article illuminates the experiences of men who accompanied their expectant partners to antenatal care (ANC) services in Accra. The findings showed that most men who attended ANC with their partners were reluctant to stay in the waiting area of the maternity clinic where services were ongoing because they were shy and uncomfortable about being in a space where women outnumbered men. Men talked about their motivations for attending ANC, which were to learn and remind their partners of essential health messages and to show love, support and respect to pregnant partners. Health workers did not have specific guidelines about the inclusion of men in ANC services, except for giving preferential treatment to women accompanied by men. Discussing the findings with the concept of space, place and gender suggested that the maternity clinic has been constructed as a feminine space over time, limiting men’s integration and participation in the activities that unfold during ANC. Article III This third article investigates alterations in gendered division of household labour during the time of pregnancy and the potential resistance to permanent changes in conventional gender norms. The findings indicated that men increased their participation in housework during their partner’s pregnancy. Nonetheless, both men and women maintained that men should not carry out most or all the housework because doing so could inspire laziness among women. Thus, both men and women accentuated that men’s participation in domestic work should be a form of support given to expectant mothers when they were tired or experiencing complications, but should not become normative. Using the theories of ‘(un) doing gender’, the article suggested that men’s involvement in housework is a temporary response to a specific life change, which does not seem to imply a possible permanent transformation in the gendered division of household labour. Discussion The findings of the thesis demonstrate multifaceted involvement of men in the care for their pregnant partners, norms of involved fatherhood, elements of masculinities that do not thrive on the subordination of women, and tentative modifications in the gendered division of household labour during the time of pregnancy. Men played a plethora of roles in the households and in the health facility setting to promote positive health outcomes for their pregnant partners, such as providing financial resources and increasing participation in housework. Male participants also practised or imagined themselves enacting elements of involved fatherhood, which means providing hands-on care for their children, playing with them, and spending quality time with their nuclear families. Hegemonic masculinity, coined as adult masculinity, persisted and is exemplified in the expectation for adult males to maintain stable intimate relationships, provide for their nuclear families, and have biological children. Moreover, men’s roles during pregnancy, like providing financial resources and attending ANC to remind their partners of important health messages and ask questions that their partners could not ask, appeared as further articulations of hegemonic masculinity. Concurrently, men’s expression of the value of conjugal fidelity, the importance they give to showing love and affection for partners, spending time with the nuclear family, and their willingness to perform some amount of housework show emergent masculinities and norms of involved fatherhood. Men and women’s participation at ANC shows that the maternity clinic has been constructed as a feminine space and a ‘third place’ for expectant mothers during the period of pregnancy. Women create social networks and connections during ANC services and discuss their health without the interference of male partners. Although men’s attendance at ANC services is recognised as important for providing physical and emotional support to expectant mothers, policies that incentivise men by giving preferential treatment to women accompanied by their partners are discriminatory against women who attend ANC alone. Hence, men’s active participation in ANC remains a dilemma. Increased men’s attendance and active participation in ANC services may dissolve the maternity clinic as a space where expectant mothers connect with each other and exercise autonomy over their health. At the same time, ineffective engagement of men at ANC services may marginalise men who want to be actively involved and likewise hinder the opportunity to garner men’s support as allies and equal caregivers to pregnant partners. The conceptual framework of ‘(un)doing gender’ was employed to interpret findings concerning transformations of gender relations. Examples of both ‘doing’ and ‘undoing gender’ were encountered in the study findings. Normative gender expectations that were understood as scripts for ‘doing gender’ described men as the key breadwinners and women as responsible for housework, even if women were engaged in income generating activities outside the home. However, during the period of pregnancy, both urban and rural men were willing to intensify their participation in domestic work, which suggests some amount of ‘undoing gender’. There was opposition to prospective long-term adjustments in gender norms. Participants contended that men should not do all or most of the housework because it could generate misunderstandings in intimate relationships and destabilise harmony in the household. It appeared that it is still essential for men and women to accomplish gender in conformity to the male breadwinner and female domestic-caregiver model. Nonetheless, men’s participation in housework during their partner’s pregnancy implies that they may become more skilful and competent in performing housework, and subsequently, perform domestic chores more easily, thereby reducing women’s burden of combining domestic and waged labour. Conclusion The likely resistance to permanent change in gender norms and practices in the household, even during the time of pregnancy, suggests that involving men in the care for their pregnant partners may not radically transform gender relations. Yet the manifestation of emergent masculinities and norms of involved fatherhood indicate a gradual process of change towards dismantling the unequal gender system.
Består avArticle I: Ampim, G. A., Haukanes, H., & Blystad, A. (2020). Making Fathers: Masculinities and Social Change in the Ghanaian Context. Africa Today, 67(1), 24-47. The article is available at: https://hdl.handle.net/11250/2766801
Article II: Ampim, G. A., Blystad, A., Kpoor, A., & Haukanes, H. (2021). “I came to escort someone”: Men’s experiences of antenatal care services in urban Ghana—a qualitative study. Reproductive Health, 18(1), 106. The article is available at: https://hdl.handle.net/11250/2977049
Article III: Ampim, G.A., Haukanes, H., Blystad, A., & Kpoor, A. (2022). ‘I do not want her to be doing anything stressful’: Men’s involvement in domestic work during pregnancy in Ghana.Progress in Development Studies. The article is available at: https://hdl.handle.net/11250/2999189