Women without Borders (WwB) implemented its ‘Fathering in a Cultural Context’ research project in Vienna and Linz between 2012 and 2013. The research study focused on fathers with migrant and Muslim backgrounds, and it explored their perspectives on fatherhood and the degree to which they exercised the ‘fair share’ principle at home; a just distribution of domestic duties between husbands and wives. Following the study, WwB produced a film entitled ‘Fatherly Love, Muslim Style’, which it premiered at a panel discussion with Austrian Social Minister Dr. Rudolf Hundstorfer in an effort to normalise the notion that fathers can and should be equal partners and engaged parents.
Research on family dynamics only recently has begun to pay adequate attention to the role that fathers play in the lives of their wives and children. Traditional portrayals of fatherhood paint a picture of an emotionally-detached, career-oriented man who expects his wife to assume total responsibility for everyday parenting and all duties pertaining to the household. This especially is true of public perceptions of fathers with migrant and Muslim backgrounds that perpetuate the popular confusion of a male parent with unwavering authoritarian and patriarchal predispositions. Against the background of shifting demographic and societal realities, men both with and without Muslim and migrant backgrounds increasingly are getting involved in family life, as equal partners and as active fathers.
In an effort to promote engaged fatherhood and bring attention to prevalent societal misconceptions of Austrian fathers with migrant and Muslim backgrounds, Women without Borders (WwB) carried out its ‘Fathering in the Cultural Context’ project between 2012 and 2013. With the support of the Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Health, and Consumer Protection (BMASK), WwB conducted a series of interviews and organised group discussions with twenty to forty-year-old fathers with migrant and Muslim backgrounds in the Austrian cities of Vienna and Linz. The study centred on exploring their experiences as fathers and husbands, capturing their attitudes towards ‘fair share’ models of labour distribution, and their hopes for the future.
By and large, the project participants reinforced their commitment to being active fathers but expressed a degree of ambivalence that most put down to growing up in patriarchal societies in which men do not commit to everyday household and parenting duties. In having to navigate roles that most thought had yet to be more clearly defined, a number of fathers expressed feeling torn when asked how much family involvement and support they deemed to be appropriate. While the fathers had in common a desire to spend more time with their families, perceived societal expectations, as the study revealed, led many to prioritise their jobs. All fathers felt that it was their duty to be positive role models to their children. The vast majority nevertheless struggled to reconcile Austrian parenthood models with those that represent the norm in their countries of origin.
To share these insights and perspectives, Women without Borders produced a film entitled ‘Fatherly Love, Muslim Style’. It was premiered on the occasion of a public panel discussion about fatherhood with Social Minister Rudolf Hundstorfer and fathers who are featured in the film. Through the film and public event, WwB encouraged a more active parenting culture and contributed to normalising the idea of fathers as engaged parents and equal partners. In the words of a 38-year-old participant from Linz, ‘Being a father is what I love. I put a lot of effort into splitting up the domestic duties between my wife and myself so that we can do what is best for our daughter’.