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Scale up of Responsible, Engaged, and Loving (REAL) Fathers approach

Prevent Child Sexual Abuse Programme / Partner story

Photo credit: Save the Children/Dickens Ojamuge

Becoming a father for the first time is a transformational moment in any man’s life. In Northern Uganda, where many families are rebuilding following years of civil unrest, a new addition to a family can be all the more significant.  

Responsible, Engaged, and Loving (REAL) Fathers is a community-based mentoring programme that capitalises on the key period of transition when young men become fathers for the first time. Piloted in Northern Uganda in 2013, the programme has shown promise in breaking cycles of violence and improving positive parenting. 

The REAL Fathers programme works by providing mentoring sessions to young fathers in Northern Uganda over a period of six months. Once a month, young fathers receive a home visit from their mentor to discuss critical themes, and there are also six group meetings over the six months. The programme uses a gender transformative approach, addressing dominant notions of masculinity and beliefs that may lead men to assert control over women and harshly discipline children. REAL Fathers challenges these gender norms and supports fathers as caring, supporting, equal partners. Poster campaigns reinforce messages of positive masculinity and fatherhood, as do community celebrations. 

“After REAL Fathers, my violence vanished,” said one young father. “I started communicating and working well with my wife. I look after our child at home most of the time and advocate to my friends to stop drinking alcohol and battering their wives.”  

Survey data gathered from REAL Fathers during its implementation phase has shown how the programme helped reduce family violence in both the short and long term. After only one year, mentored fathers were approximately 35 per cent less likely to perpetrate interpersonal violence, and three times more likely to practice positive parenting than other fathers. In addition, women reported that their husbands were more engaged as fathers at home. 

These results bring hope for families in Uganda. Building strong family bonds and modelling positive gender norms in a child’s early years is an important protective shield against the sexual abuse of children and adults in the future.

Through a grant to the Center for Gender Equity and Health at the University of California, San Diego, the team worked with Oak’s local partner, Impact and Innovations Development Centre, to capitalise on the existing evidence of the impact of REAL Fathers to influence the Government of Uganda to adapt REAL Fathers for scale up across the country. The scale-up effort is based on implementation through government systems and community-based organisations. The REAL Fathers programme has now been officially endorsed by both the Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development, as well as the Ministry of Health, as a scalable programme throughout the country. These ministries are committed to offering technical support towards scaling up REAL Fathers. Progress implementation is monitored through the districts. Three districts – Alebtong, Lira, and Nwoya – already integrated REAL Fathers in their district development plans.

Fred Ngabirano, Commissioner for Youth and Children Affairs at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, says: “By integrating REAL Fathers in the national early childhood framework for the country, we are on the right track. Through the ministry of gender, we are advocating for scaling up the model of REAL Fathers at the national and sub-national levels.” 

Government endorsement, political will, community-based coalitions of implementers and national policies aligned with REAL Fathers are setting the stage for country-wide scale, which can help extend the impact of the programme across the country and change the lives of many children and families.  

This grant falls under Oak’s Prevent Child Sexual Abuse (PCSA) programme, and within that our priority funding area of positive masculinity and gender equality, that works to support research that builds evidence for positive masculinity protecting children against sexual abuse. 

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