“Communicate openly and on the individual”
This story was authored by Kate van de Krol, Rutgers.
Around the world, involving partners and fathers during the course of pregnancy has become more popular. And with good reason: namely, the earlier a father connects with his child and recognizes his role as a caregiver, the better the relationships with others and child development outcomes will be later on. Especially with interventions that focus on gender norms and roles, using a Gender-Transformative Approach (GTA) has promising outcomes. It has shown that a targeted approach to recruitment, openness, and the willingness of health professionals is key to engage fathers and partners during the pre-natal phase.
Evaluation of the new Dutch Partner Module
As in many other countries, the Dutch system does not yet encourage fathers to become active parents during pregnancy or later in their children’s lives. Even though paternity leave has recently increased from two days to six weeks in total, many fathers feel left out and sidestepped by health professionals when it comes to the birth of their child.
To make sure that fathers become actively involved from the start, Rutgers, the Dutch centre of expertise on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), together with TNO, the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research, explored the outcomes of a newly created partner module. This module is part of the well-known Centering Pregnancy Method, a method that increases the well-being and empowerment of women who are expecting. Based on this method, a two-hour group module for fathers was set up to enable them to reflect, among other things, on the changing nature of relationships and the transition to parenthood. In these group meetings, fathers were invited to participate through interactive activities, various role play exercises, and discussions.
Module positively transforming gender norms
The ultimate goal of this module is to garner better health outcomes for women, men, and their children through more equal gender relations. To achieve this, the partner module used a Gender Transformative Approach, which actively examines, questions, and transforms inequitable gender norms and power dynamics into positive values that help create movement toward gender equality. In practical terms this meant making sure that the sessions focused on current and existing gender norms around fatherhood and motherhood and how to practically challenge these when jointly caring for the baby.
The outcomes of this research into the impact of the partner module can be found below:
1. Target fathers personally
Fathers expressed that they would like to be targeted personally and individually with information about the sessions. They pitched ideas on what that would entail, namely: receiving personally addressed e-mails, having more posters in the waiting area specifically geared towards partners, and the distribution of flyers. They feel less inclined to look at the content when it comes to them through someone else, let’s say, through their partners. Likewise, the information should provide a clear picture of what the partner module entails. The evaluation of the module shows us once more that it is not enough to address information to “parents” but rather we should use the wording “father”, so that fathers feel personally invited to engage in the subject.
2. Communicate openly and without judgment
To transform harmful gender norms and roles that impact a father’s life, it is crucial to establish an atmosphere that encourages openness and sharing, and a space where discussions can be held without judgement. Because this partner module focused on transformation and non-judgement, it has led to visibly increased communication between the caregivers and fathers in question. The health professionals involved noticed that the services provided could be arranged more easily and quickly with the father present, especially during the birth itself.
3. Willingness of health professionals
The majority of Dutch healthcare professionals, including health workers and midwifes, responded that they believe involving expectant fathers should be part of their job description. Even though many health workers already experience a heavy workload, they still believe that at present, fathers are not brought on board enough. This shows the willingness of the health professionals to get involved in partner-engagement strategies. What has to be done now is to ensure these types of modules officially become part of the service they offer, instead of something they want to get involved in, outside their remit.