Picture: Suleiman Henry
During this year's #16DaysofActivism, IOL puts the spotlight on those who dedicate their lives to fighting violence against women and children.

Cape Town - According to AfricaCheck, more than 60% of South African children grow up without fathers. This staggering statistic is trotted out every so often to shock and explain away the reason the fabric of our society is broken. 

Society, in general, has cast women in the role of caregiver while fathers are seen as the material providers for the family. The reality is that we have created a culture of fathers being uninvolved in their children’s lives. 

Very often these uninvolved fathers are unemployed or low-income earners whose inability to provide for their children has seen them being further isolated from their lives - to the detriment of the child. 

There are fathers who are trying to change this but they often need help. 

Suleiman Henry is a Child Rights and Positive Parenting trainer with Sonke Gender Justice. He has been an activist and community builder for a number of years and has a worked in the NGO sector extensively.

Above all, he is also a son, a husband and a father. And it is this part of his life which has inspired Suleiman to work with parents who need help creating safe, nurturing homes for their children.

Growing up in Manenberg on the Cape Flats,  Henry  saw first-hand the impact that an involved father has on a child’s life. 

He has also been privy to some of the worst scenarios imaginable and has seen how guidance and equipping parents with the necessary tools can turn a situation around.

Henry, through his work at Sonke, is helping fathers identify how they can more fully support their wives and share the burden of care for their children more equally. 

It's a well-known fact that most violent offenders have been subjected to violence themselves, and therefore it stands to reason that an involved father can help shield a child from exposure to violence.

Teaching men to rethink their language, the way they think about the roles of women in the home and the way they interact with their wives, mothers and daughters creates an awareness of the inherent patriarchy ingrained in our society, but also enables them to redefine their own roles in terms of taking equal responsibility for household chores and rearing children.

As Henry points out, in our communities it's not uncommon for neighbours to weigh in with their own advice when a child is being naughty. 

The parent is put under pressure to spank the child, even when that's not the style of parenting they believe in. The Sonke team equips them with the tools to make the right choices

In Henry's own family, his work has significantly influenced the relationship between himself and his wife. 

He says he is always conscious of allowing her the time and space to share her views with him, regardless of how trying his day has been.

This has led to them having a closer bond with each other and in turn with their children.

Quizzed about why he chose this career when he has significant experience in the NGO field, Henry's answer is simple: "There's a need in our communities to help husbands and fathers become more effective parents to ensure that their children have a better chance at fulfilling their potential."

IOL