“We are Parents” : changing constructions of fatherhood and fathering in Urban Zambia

  • Aurick MUBITA

Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)


There is ample evidence that the conceptualization of fatherhood and the involvement of fathers in families is changing in many societies. However, in sub-Saharan African countries, dedicated studies on fatherhood are still very limited and in Zambia, a review of literature showed that they are non-existent. To address this gap, this study used the framework of masculine compromise to explore the ways in which fatherhood is conceptualized, practiced, and negotiated in view of existing masculinity and fatherhood discourses. The study also examined how fathers dealt with existing discrepancies between their everyday fathering practices and cultural expectations. It also considered conditions that compel fathers to engage in the care of others. The study employed a qualitative approach. Data were collected through 35 in-depth interviews with fathers, 25 with mothers, and 5 couple interviews. Selection of participants was confined to Lusaka urban, which is the capital city of Zambia and consisted of fathers of children aged 12 years and below. Data were analysed thematically. Consistent with masculine compromise, findings revealed that fathers are embracing emotionality and the conceptualization of fatherhood is shifting away from a simplistic view centred only on the hegemonic notion of fathers as financial providers. It has become more intensive and expansive incorporating emotional expressiveness, physical caregiving, spending time, giving voice and respect to children as individuals. In many ways, fathers’ conceptions aligned with the child-centred discourse of intensive parenting and their ideal image of a ‘responsible’ child. Particularly, fathers showed lots of anxieties, worries and fears about the safety and (future) wellbeing of their children. Three types of fathers were identified based on their relative proximity to masculine power relations and practical engagement in childcare and housework. These included actively, moderately, and selectively involved fathers. Consistent with masculine compromise, fathers’ involvement in housework was based on pragmatic rationales and not principles of gender equality, which made it less intensive compared to other facets. Fathers’ engagement in traditionally feminine duties was subjected to social scrutiny and ridicule (being bewitched, under petticoat government, weak men). However, in health centres, they were given preferential treatment and priority. To deal with ridicule and legitimize their involvement, fathers harnessed proactive strategies ranging from interpreting parenting as gender-neutral based on children’s dire needs, temporally withdrawal and self-censorship, to the more subversive strategies of owning the narrative labels. Strategies allowed fathers to both deviate and comply with hegemonic masculine norms. Evidence was strong that changes in fatherhood and fathering were mainly rooted in intense anxieties emanating from declining collectivistic culture and rising individualism, fading traditional masculinity, spread of Pentecostalism and its prosperity gospel suited for the adoption of intensified parenting styles. Since fathers held on to breadwinning while vying for more involvement, the study concludes that the expansion of, and change in fatherhood and fathering is a result of masculine compromises and fathering transformations that fathers make on certain gender ideals in order to take care of children’s vulnerabilities and achieve successful fatherhood. Fathers want to be seen both as men and good parents.
Date of Award19 Oct 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Lingnan University
SupervisorHau Nung Annie CHAN (Supervisor) & Roman DAVID (Co-supervisor)

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