Written By: Suzie Galler

January 2023

Real Fathers

Institute for Reproductive Health

“This project has taught us a lot on how to love with our women and children. It has really made us responsible parents.” – Samuel*, participant in REAL Fathers program

Samuel* helps his wife clean up after the evening meal and bathes his 2-year-old daughter before putting her to bed. The scene would not be unusual in many countries, but in Samuel’s community in Uganda, men have largely been disconnected from rearing their young children or helping with domestic chores, tasks they looked at as belonging strictly to their female partners and weakening their role as the head of household. But that mentality has been shifting since the Responsible, Engaged, and Loving Fathers (REAL) program was implemented here. The program has shown promise, not only in changing parental roles, but in reducing violence in the home.

The primary objective of the REAL Fathers Initiative was to develop and test a set of interventions to reduce intimate partner violence and harsh punishment of children among young fathers (ages 16-25). The results to date have been so striking that the program, which was piloted first in Northern Uganda, has been scaled up in the Uganda community of Karamoja and introduced in Senegal, Rwanda, and India.

Particularly striking is how eye-opening it has been for participants. The young fathers described the experience as opening their hearts and minds or being “awakened,” and consequently were able to shift their thinking to imagining a vastly different role for themselves in relation to their wives and children.

Working from a mentor-based system, participants were selected by community leaders who sought young fathers cohabiting with their spouse and parenting a child under five to participate in the initiative. These young fathers in turn, selected respected older men in the community to be their mentors.

Mentors were trained in gender equity, gender roles and responsibilities, family planning, power, and violence. Over the course of seven months, mentors conducted one individual or couple mentoring session each month with each father they mentored, plus a group session with four or five other mentors and their mentees.

Enthusiasm among participants was noteworthy. Fathers could identify some of their own behaviors and how they helped or harmed their families, especially behaviors related to their relationships with their wives and children. They learned to communicate with their wives and work together towards a common goal.

The results have been impressive, measurable both quantifiably and qualitatively. Findings from the quantitative evaluation of the scale up of the program in Northern Uganda demonstrated that one year post-intervention, fathers were 2.8 times more likely not to use violent discipline with their under-five children than fathers in a control group, and about three times more likely to be non-violent with their intimate partners as a control group. More detailed findings can be seen on the Institute for Reproductive Health website.

Here are a few of the other takeaways from the recent scale of the program in North Uganda and Karamoja:

  • Fathers have taken on more child caregiving and household responsibility as a result of the program, which has improved their relationships with their partners and children.
  • Fathers have reduced or completely eliminated alcohol use, which has been beneficial to both mothers and fathers, allowing them to save money, spend more time with their children, and reduce Intimate Partner Violence.
  • Couples have engaged in more shared decision-making and responsibilities with the help of their mentors, leading to more mutual respect and understanding in their marriage.
  • Mothers and fathers use of positive discipline with their young children and the reduction of corporal punishment has improved the relationship between children and their parents.

The USAID-funded REAL Fathers programming in Senegal and Rwanda found similar results. 

Samuel sums up the progress he has made with pride. “There’s no more fighting or misunderstandings in the home. This project has taught us a lot on how to live with our women and children. It has really made us responsible parents.”

Most rewarding is to see that the program’s success extends to their community, with many mentors and community members congratulating fathers on their changed behavior. Other couples even seek advice from REAL Fathers and their wives on how to improve their own relationship. The real success of REAL Fathers lies not only in the family members it touches today, but the potential these fathers have to be role models for their children’s families for generations to come.

For more information visit: https://www.irh.org/interventions/responsible-engaged-and-loving-real-fathers/

*Name has been changed to protect identity