“Father over mother, mother over me and me over the cat,” said the boy.
“The most important thing is that the men don’t need to feel they are alone with their questions, feelings and expectations.”
Who: Sergey Zakharow
What: Child psychologist who holds courses for fathers-to-be.
He is a child psychologist and active in a network within the framework for the Nordic Way organisation, which is trying to promote public opinion for gender equality in Russia. The fathers’ groups, which are aimed at young fathers-to-be, were started in 2009. Their aim is to stimulate public debate on the subject of gender equality and the role of men. The work is being undertaken on a small scale but has aroused a lot of media interest in a country where it is natural for the woman to be responsible for the home and the children.
Sergey himself found talking to men about what having children involves to be a new experience.
“I was surprised that the men had so much to talk about, like how difficult it can be to live with a pregnant woman who has mood swings, or what his role in the new relationship is, and what his woman needs. Many men want to talk about what they need to buy, and almost all of them want to renovate the home, because, they say, “my home is my castle”. Many of them are worried about how they will cope with the journeys between home and work, which are often long.”
They have the opportunity to ask questions to a paediatrician, and they practise changing nappies on a doll.
Sergey and his colleagues find the fathers-to-be by asking the women taking courses at the ante-natal clinics if their husbands would be interested in taking a parenting course. A course consists of 6-8 meetings. The men come from a mix of social classes and their new role as a father is the only thing they have in common. They have the opportunity to ask questions to a paediatrician, and they practise changing nappies on a doll.
Sergey, who works with the fathers’ groups on a voluntary basis, describes it as a course without a teacher. “I don’t teach,” he says, “I share my own experiences and lead the discussion.
The important thing is that the men don’t need to feel they are alone with their questions, feelings and expectations. After the course they feel better prepared for fatherhood. And they’ve had practice in opening up and beginning to talk about feelings. Traditionally, the man has a secondary role as regards the child. He sees his first responsibility as being the breadwinner. But we can see the beginnings of a change.”
In Russia, the parents of small children are entitled to three years of parental leave, and receive a parental allowance for the first 18 months. But in practice, it is difficult for men who are not employed by the state to take paternity leave. There are some men who fight for their right to stay at home with their children, but they have been forced to take their case to the Supreme Court.
So far about 300 fathers have taken the course in St Petersburg.
Neither do all men have the privilege of being able to help their child into the world, unless they can afford to pay for a single room at the hospital. There are usually four women giving birth in the same room while their husbands wait outside closed doors.
So far about 300 fathers have taken the course in St Petersburg, and work is underway to start up groups in other parts of Russia. There is also an internet magazine, ‘Magazine for Fathers’. The hope is that they will empower more men in their role as fathers to take more responsibility and have a close relationship with their children.
“But the men I meet have already shown that they are responsible fathers-to-be, by wanting to take the course,” says Sergey. “The problem is – how can we reach the others?”
Maternal deaths: 34 deaths per l00,000 births (2008)
Number of children/woman: 1.42
Abortion legislation: Right to abortion
Law against rape within marriage: No
Violence against women in close relationships: Violence in the home is the cause of two thirds of all murders in Russia. It is estimated that 34,000 women are subjected to violence in the home each year. 60-70 per cent of these victims do not report the abuse, mainly because previous attempts to report it have failed.