Author: Terborg, J.; NVB
One of the main strategies to positively influence early child development, contained in the framework of the GOS/UNICEF Country Program of Cooperation, is to provide parents with the necessary and appropriate skills, attitudes and knowledge to support and guide them in their efforts to enhance the personal and social development of their children. A project "better parenting" will be developed, aimed at developing and implementing a parenting education program in Suriname in order to support healthy child development. The NVB, one of the implementing agencies of the Government of Suriname/UNICEF Country Program, conducted a pilot study on gender socialization in two communities in order for this parenting education program to be adjusted to the gender-specific social, economic and cultural conditions in Suriname.
Purpose / Objective
To provide information for the development of a parenting education program in Suriname, based on the gender-specific social/cultural and economic characteristics of the target group(s). Specifically:
- To develop an understanding of the cultural and social context of gender socialization, with special attention for the aspect of sexual socialization
- To develop an understanding of the relationship between parents and children
- To develop an understanding of gender-specific notions and behavior with regard to child-rearing practices
- To initiate discussion on gender roles and related (gender-specific) child rearing practices as part of the process of awareness raising and behavioral change.
- To identify community resources that can lead to:
* the development and/or strengthening of an active participation of the community in a parents' education project
* the facilitation of parent participation in children's education, and
* the building of healthy partner relationships of their adolescent children
The choice of Palissadeweg and Munderbuiten was based on the wish to ensure ethnic diversity and the inclusion of both urban and rural family settings. In addition, we looked at the existence of an active community organization; in particular, a women's organization, which could guarantee follow-up actions, i.e. the implementation of a parent education program, based on the principle of gender equality.
The main method of data collection was a survey in both communities. Prior to the survey, we interviewed some stakeholders in the communities, such as teachers and other community leaders, in order to obtain information about life in general in the community and, in particular, with respect to the selected issues. The survey is based on face-to-face structured interviews with 120 persons (60 from each community); all parents of children under 18 years.
Key Findings and Conclusions
Household and relational structure:
With respect to household and relational structures, we have seen that the Surinamese scene is very diverse. Apart from the nuclear household, which is the dominant household type in both communities, we also found extended households and one-parent households.
In both the Palissadeweg and Munderbuiten, most of the parents (respectively 90% and 70%) were living together, either married or in a common-law union. An important conclusion we can derive from this finding is that, in most families, children are raised by two parents, regardless if these are the biological parents or not. If we compare the two communities, an overall conclusion is that in Palissadeweg, the proportion of parents who lived together with their children, all under one roof, was significantly higher than in Munderbuiten.
The highest proportion (39%) of single mothers is found among Creoles in Munderbuiten. Among Hindustanies and Maroon, we found percentages of respectively 22% and 25%. Furthermore, findings showed that in both communities, the number of households where a single mother lives alone with her children is small. Most of the single mothers were part of an extended household. This finding implies that, especially in single-parent families, apart from the mother, other home-based caretakers, such as grandparents and siblings, are playing an active role in the socialization of the child and, therefore, should be considered important socialization agents.
Gender labor division in the household:
- Financial care of the family
The existing gender inequality at the macro-economic level is clearly reflected at the household level. In both communities, participation of men in full-time paid labor is twice as high as that of women while men are also reported as the main income source in most of the households.
Although the phenomena of 'the working mother' has a long history in Suriname, the data reveal that half of the women in Palissadeweg and 60% in Munderbuiten are still full-time involved in household work. In a significant proportion of households, women's financial contribution was reported as the main income source: 26% of the women in the Palissadeweg and 36% of those in Munderbuiten reported themselves as the main breadwinner.
Despite this important contribution of women to the economic survival of the family, the notion of the male as 'the breadwinner' is still very strong, especially among men. Overall, men tend to negate this breadwinner role of women. This attitude is reflected in the fact that none of the men in Palissadeweg and only 17% of the men in Munderbuiten reported the woman as the main income source. Furthermore, we also found that many men do not like the idea of a woman working outside: 29% in Palissadeweg and 61% in Munderbuiten.
- Care of household and children
If we compare Palissadeweg and Munderbuiten, the data clearly indicate that patterns of gender labor division in the household are very similar. In both communities, it is the woman who is primarily responsible for in-door domestic chores and day-to day financial management of the household. Men are (perceived as) the main income source of the family and, therefore, usually in charge of outdoor domestic chores.
This traditional gender-specific task division is also reflected in the socialization of children. Tasks assigned to girls are connected to the tasks of the mother while boys are mainly involved in the 'male tasks', connected to the tasks of their fathers. Interestingly, most of the parents tend to emphasize the importance of learning all the in-door household tasks to boys. They believe that a boy should also know how to cook, wash clothes, etc. The main thought behind this, however, is that a man should always be able to take care of himself, even if no woman is available. The direct consequence of this approach is that as soon as boys live together with a partner, they stop to help in domestic chores and expect their partner to do the work, because they perceive domestic chores as a woman's responsibility.
Caring for (and bearing of) children is seen by both men and women as a primary responsibility of the woman. The mother is seen as the most important person in a child's life. This perception is also in line with reality. In practice, it is mainly the mother who is in contact with the school and helps children with homework. She is the one who spends most of her time alone with children and brings them to the consultation bureau, the doctor, etc.
If we look at patterns of decision-making, we can observe that, overall, the proportion of respondents in favor of shared decision making is the highest in Palissadeweg. Men of Palissadeweg are relatively more involved in tasks that are traditionally assigned to women, such as indoor domestic chores, and caring and upbringing of children. The proportion of men in Palissadeweg who has contact with school, helps with schoolwork, was present during birth and brought their child to the consultation bureau was significantly higher than that of men in Munderbuiten. This higher frequency of joint decision-making and cross-gender task division in Palissadeweg could be related to a higher percentage of co-resident partner relations and cultural specific perceptions on gender roles, which were not explored in detail in this study.
While many men believe that the role of the breadwinner is exclusively masculine, they expressed willingness to share responsibilities in fields that are traditionally characterized as feminine. Findings indicate that men are aware that certain responsibilities, such as family planning, helping with children's homework, visit schools and spend free time with children, be present at birth of the child and involvement in postnatal care are responsibilities that should be shared by men and women.
From the viewpoint of most women, however, men's involvement in these activities is still marginal. One explanation could be that there is a gap between perception and action: men perceive themselves as committed fathers but do not act as such in practice. In the discussion on parenting, it is important to consider these contradictions between perceptions and practice.
There is a strong belief that raising children today is much more difficult than before. Parents argue that children of today are less obedient and have less respect for elders. Furthermore, they complain about the decrease of social control mechanisms and the increasing influence of external factors such as mass media, drugs, peer groups, etc. The current difficult economic situation in Suriname is considered a big obstacle in providing adequate financial care for children.
Corporal punishment of children seems to be a rare practice in the communities involved. It is difficult to determine the reliability of these responses. Considering the social taboo on this issue, it is not unlikely that respondents tend to respond in a socially desirable manner. Other studies have shown that a questionnaire is not the best instrument to measure taboo issues such as violence. Most of the parents use other punishment methods such as limiting the children's freedom (lock them in the room, no permission to play with friends or go on the streets), or forbidding them to do the things they like, etc.
Reasons for punishing girls show a lot of similarity with that of boys. However, girls are punished less for staying out late or going out on the streets.
Sexual socialization of children:
In general, perceptions on the sexuality of children are very similar. Most parents see the age period 10-14 years as the best period to include sexual issues in the communication with children. In the case of girls, parents focus especially on preparing the girl for menarche.
Although parents are not reluctant to discuss sex with their children, most of them assign this task to the mother and the school. It is striking that men seem to have no role in the sexual education of children, in particular in the age group under 15 years.
Notions on the ideal age to start with sex(ual intercourse) are very much the same. Most parents do not expect their children to have sex before the age of 18. The most mentioned ages for initiating sexual intercourse were 18, 20 and 21, for both daughters and sons. However, if we look more closely, it appears that parents expect their sons to start earlier with sex than daughters.
The opposite is true when it comes to childbearing. Here we see a clear difference between mothers and fathers. Most mothers tend to postpone fatherhood for their sons, ideally at the age of 25 or later. Daughters, however, are expected to start motherhood around the age of 20. In Munderbuiten, 10% of the respondents even mentioned 18 years as the ideal age for a woman to have her first child. While mothers tend to postpone fatherhood for their sons, most fathers believe that 18 years is a good age for a man to start fatherhood. It seems obvious that gender inequality in socialization is specifically strong in the field of sexual socialization.
Marriage is the type of relation that is most idealized. However, the majority of the parents, in both communities, are of the opinion that children should not be marrying right away but live together first. It is striking that this opinion is especially strong in Palissadeweg.
Conflict in the family is not unusual. Almost all households experienced some form of conflict on an irregular basis. Most conflicts are rooted in the dominance of one of the partners, mainly the man, over the other. Women often complain about imposed restrictions on them by their partner: they are not allowed to leave the house. Financial management of the household is also one of the main reasons for conflict.
With respect to the prevalence of violence, we found that in Palissadeweg and in Munderbuiten, respectively 5% and 13% of the respondents reported that they ever abused their partner. In both communities, more men than women used violence against their partner.
Although most parents agree with each other on the central values of socialization, the perceptions on how to realize these values are often different. These differences in views on how to raise children are an important source of conflict.
We also looked at how parents deal with relational conflict. The findings show that there is no significant difference between men and women when it comes to conflict resolution. Men and women both apply aggressive and passive resolution methods.
A parent education program based on alternative gender socialization should consider the following aspects:
The mother and the school can be identified as the main socialization agents. Many mothers are full-time housewives and, therefore, mainly in charge with the upbringing of children. The vast majority of the children spend most of their time either at home or in school.
Strengthen the relationship between the main socialization agents, which are the home and the school. This implies that both parents and school workers should be actively involved in the planning and implementation of a parent education program.
Identify target groups of parents. Considering the age division within the group of children under 18, we recommend to identify the following target groups:
- parents of children in kindergarten and parents of pre-school children
- parents of children in primary school
To ensure better parenting, it is essential for creating opportunities for fathers and mothers to meet and to discuss relevant issues with respect to male-female relations and socialization of children. Parents should have the possibility to share thoughts and experiences, and freely and openly express their fears, doubts and expectations. This implies that methods used should be participatory in nature and action oriented.
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