A Department of Education official Dr Nozipho Mvune graduated with a PhD in Education following a study into the experiences of teenage fathers and how they understand their responsibilities and perform their roles.
Mvune said she noticed a high rate of teenage pregnancy and parenthood, especially in rural schools, and that many prevention strategies were directed towards girls. She then started research to give teenage fathers a voice by highlighting the complexities that shape their notions of masculinity and fatherhood.
‘Giving teenage fathers a voice is essential, not least because the subject of teenage pregnancy is still in its infancy, and needs to be approached from as broad and fair a perspective as possible,’ said Mvune. ‘Fatherhood is a great milestone in masculinity, irrespective of age. Teenage fathers who participated in my study used fatherhood to define their masculine identities.’
The findings highlight how teenage fathers held firmly to the stereotype of father-as-provider-and-protector and used it to define their identities. Participants both upheld and opposed dominant notions of masculinity in ways that emphasized the presence and importance of the intersectionality of culture, context, and sexual risk.
‘Respondents made efforts to show caring masculinity by taking part in childcare activities, yet having multiple partners in order to adopt socially accepted norms of being men. Like teenage mothers, negotiation of fatherhood in teenagers was characterised by various complexities,’ said Mvune.
She argues that the gendered nature of teenage pregnancy has made support for teenage parents biased towards mothers whilst leaving out fathers. She indicates a need for a clear policy framework that is going to guide support programmes for teenage fathers as well.
‘The Department of Education has formalised support for young women, and in some selected schools, out-of-school youth have been appointed on a voluntary basis as Learner Support Agents (LSAs). The main role of LSAs is to provide support for female learners during and after pregnancy,’ said Mvune. ‘This support includes referrals to clinics or social services and academic support in order to enable pregnant teenagers to continue schooling during pregnancy and make a smooth re-entry after delivery.’
Mvune considers this a milestone for creating an enabling environment in schools for the implementation of rights-based policies that allow learners to continue schooling during and after pregnancy.
‘The support is gendered and needs to be structured so that teenage fathers can also benefit from support in negotiating their dual roles of being learners and fathers. For example, Learner Support Agents could help schools with the formation of support groups for teenage fathers, where they can openly discuss the challenges they go through in their negotiation of fatherhood, share-parenting strategies and learn from each other.’
Mvune thanked her family, friends and supervisor Professor Deevia Bhana. ‘I wish my parents lived to witness this, especially my late mother who worked very hard as a domestic worker to ensure we went to school.’
Offering advice to other students, she said, ‘Love your study. The passion you have will see you through.’