The changing face of fatherhood in the Middle East

Adnan and Abu are changing the face of fatherhood and smashing gender norms in Lebanon.

Adnan Melki from Beirut is the father of 2 young girls. Every night he puts his children to bed and reads them a bedtime story. “My eldest [age 3] is a tough negotiator – no less than 5 stories a night.”

Since 2015 IMAGES MENA have surveyed over 10,000 men and women in Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, and Palestine, on their opinions on gender equality, including parenting.

More than three fifths of the men interviewed rejected the thought of any shame being associated with men looking after children. However, fewer than one quarter of the participating men had bathed or fed their child in the past month.

I have this blessing and I can spend more time with my children and show them my emotions.

Adnan views looking after his children and taking on some of the household duties as a privilege.

“My father worked really hard. He used to suffer from a lack of time with his children; now I have this blessing and I can spend more time with my children and show them my emotions.”

He adds, “Besides, I really love ironing.”

Taking on domestic duties

Adnan recalls when he was a child, “there was no discrimination between boys and girls in our family.”

However, this wasn’t the case for all families. He recalls his time with his father collecting olives in Lebanon.

“Picking the olives from the tree is a man’s work but picking them from the ground is for women. But I was good at picking from the ground and my sister would often climb the trees. Sometimes people would make fun of us.”

I do the household chores when my wife is busy. But this is not accepted in our society.

While Adnan’s wife is away at work he takes on the domestic responsibility of the house.

“I do the household chores when my wife is busy. But this is not accepted in our society. Sometimes they blame her for travelling for work and leaving [the] children with me, but if I travel, no one scolds me.”

Both men and women in the IMAGES MENA survey defined manhood as the ability to provide for your family. However, with unemployment rates increasing families in the Middle East are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.

This is having a direct impact on the way fathers are interacting with their children. 60% of the men surveyed said that they spent too little time with their children because of work or the search for work.

Changing gender norms

To change the face of fatherhood and begin to change gender norms parents need to show their children how a household is equally run. Abu Rashed is a Syrian refugee in his fifties. He lives with his wife, and 7 out of his 10 children. The live in a two-room tent in the Bekaa valley.

Male Syrian refugees are under constant state surveillance and jobs are scarce, which makes it incredibly difficult for them to find work. This means that girls and women, who have greater freedom of movement, often work to bring home money.

Many of the refugees interviewed for the IMAGES MENA report expressed how this made them feel emasculated. Not Abu though. He proudly helps his wife with keeping their home in order, and often helps with the cooking and cleaning.

Too taboo for most men

Omar is one of Abu’s children. He is 16 years-old and, just like his father, takes on some of the domestic duties of home life. Not only does Omar do the laundry, but he also hangs it out in front of the neighbours – a public display too taboo for most men. “I do this because it is normal in my family; my father does it” Omar explains.

Both Adnan and Abu are changing the face of fatherhood, and Omar is following his father’s lead. Through taking on more domestic duties they are smashing gender norms and paving the way for gender equality.

Unlocking the power of men’s care

Learn more about the power of male caregivers in MenCare’s report ‘State of the World’s Fathers: Unlocking the Power of Men’s Care’.