Men and the Child Support Grant: Gender, Care and Child Well-being

Full Name: 
Dr Zoheb Khan
Cash transfer programmes (CTPs) to support the care of children have become a popular social protection mechanism across the developing world over the last 20 years. While they have demonstrably alleviated child and household poverty, their impacts on gender relations are contested. South Africa’s Child Support Grant (CSG) follows international trends where the overwhelming majority of caregivers who receive the grant are women. In practice, this has served to solidify a traditional, gendered division of labour, where the care of children remains a predominately female responsibility. Unshared care burdens sustain deep inequality between men and women in income, time and opportunity. This is in a context characterised by widespread father absence. Nonetheless, there is a small minority of men who do claim the CSG. However, very little is known about men who receive child-centred cash transfers, in South Africa or elsewhere. Knowing more about these men is critical for understanding how and if men can ‘do gender’ differently, and in turn contribute to changing unequal gender relations.
The aim of this mixed method study was therefore to study the caregiving dynamics in households where men receive the CSG. This was addressed via a statistical analysis of household spending patterns and child nutrition using the National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS), and a critical discourse analysis of interviews with CSG-receiving men in Soweto, Johannesburg. The statistical findings indicate that male grant recipients are not more likely than female grant recipients to misspend household income. In addition, their children are not significantly more likely to suffer poor nutrition. The discourse analysis sheds light on these findings, revealing that CSG-receiving men conceive of their masculinity in ways that are often quite different to patriarchal norms, and that this directs their enactment of caring and responsible fatherhood. The two sets of findings suggest that greater uptake of the CSG by men could benefit men, women and children, with the potential to transform the unequal, gendered structure of caregiving. In this way, the CSG could become a more gender-sensitive, transformative social protection policy for children and families in South Africa.
Keywords: Child support grant; transformative social protection; gender; masculinity.