What do Swedish and Kenyan dads have in common? Plenty, according to a photo exhibition launched on May 16 by the Swedish Embassy in Kenya.
A quick glance at the photos in the contemporaneous exhibition of “Kenyan Dads” and “Swedish Dads” revealed glaring, endearing similarities. From braiding their daughters’ hair to making silly faces, cooking and playing together, the men in these photos convey one message clearly: that they were unafraid of being active and present in their children’s lives.
“For me, a father is someone who is practically present in their child’s life. By practically present, I mean being involved in their everyday life, even the small, mundane things that have been previously thought of as a preserve of women. And especially in the African setting, there are some things that are almost unheard of. I change my children’s diapers and it’s not a big deal for me,” said James Ndegwa.
Mr Ndegwa is a father of three and his wife submitted a heart-warming photo of him playing with his brood for the photo exhibition. He was so engrossed in playing, he says, that he did not notice his wife take a photo with her mobile phone. Mr Ndegwa embodies the kind of father that the Swedish Embassy hopes we can emulate.
“Men’s participation as fathers and as caregivers is of tremendous importance to their own and their children’s lives. Involved fathers help children thrive. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. There is still a lot of work left before we reach equal parenting in both Sweden and Kenya. One way is to inspire fathers to consider the positive benefits of sharing responsibility of child rearing,” said Ambassador Anna Jardfelt.
Swedish photographer Johan Bavman set out to do exactly that in the hope of inspiring other fathers, and thus “Swedish Dads” was born in 2014. To date, the exhibition has toured over 40 countries and counting.
This also inspired a local version of the show. The Swedish Embassy held a call-out for Kenyan dad photo submissions in April 2018, and 28 finalists were selected.
“It was mostly wives, mothers and sisters who submitted the photos and we were quite pleased with the response. Discussions about fatherhood and being a father are being actively held in Sweden and it was important to bring that to Kenya. We have a lot to learn in Sweden but we also wanted to share some experiences and listen to some of the experiences of Kenyan fathers on the issue of fatherhood,” said Ms Jardfelt. .
“Swedish Dads” will be displayed alongside “Kenyan Dads” at the Village Market until May 31.
The best Kenyan dad photo competition winner was also honoured during the launch.
Coming only three days after the world celebrated Mother’s Day, the event could not be more timely, as fathers in Kenya are “often relegated to the role of financial provider as opposed to providing emotional support”, according to Kenyan family lawyer and human rights activist Judy Thongori.
Ms Thongori was part of a panel discussion during the launch.
“The issue of fatherhood is serious enough to be a national conversation,” said Ms Thongori.
But the idea of a father only being there for his children financially and not emotionally is not unique to Kenya.
“There’s a misconception out there about Sweden where it’s considered as a utopia, that we are doing so well with regard to gender equality that our issues can’t fit into their context, and this is a hindrance for Sweden internationally. Sweden has one of the most generous parental insurance schemes, which enables a parent to stay at home with their child for 480 days, yet only 27 per cent of this is taken up by men. Another example is that we have 98 per cent of sexual abuse cases being perpetrated by men in Sweden. We have all these problems. We collaborate with other countries to show them that we have similar problems,” said Michael Skoglund, a father of three and a project manager from the Swedish Institute who was part of the organising team for the Swedish Dads photo exhibition.
The objectives of the photo exhibition are as noble as it can get.
“We are here today to celebrate fathers who are active and present in their children’s lives,” said Ambassador Jardfelt.
And celebrate they did.
The winning photo was that of Melvin Mwakugu lying on a sofa while holding his two sleeping children. The photo was submitted by his wife Hilda Mwakugu.
The judges chose this image because “it gives us an intimate glimpse into a family’s home and a loving and present father.”
As we gear up for Father’s Day on June 17, the exhibition offers lessons and points for reflection for Kenyan parents.