A deep dive into caregiver behavior through a gender lens

by Sindhuja Jeyabal
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October 13, 2022

We strive to design our programs taking into account the gender of the caregiver and the child. This last year, as we have continued to build with this in mind, we are happy to share that we are already making a good impact on both fathers and mothers in several program outcome areas. We also have a better understanding of how expert help could make the program even more, gender intentional - e.g., reviewing phonecast content through a gender lens, updating our research to identify differences (that we may be currently missing) in caregiver behaviors based on their child’s gender

Impact of Dost Phonecasts as seen through a caregiver gender lens

We undertook a combination of methodologies like call engagement data, KAB (knowledge, attitude, behavior) outcomes reported* through question prompts embedded in the calls, and phone surveys to understand the similarities and differences in how fathers and mothers respond to Dost Phonecasts.

*- 18% of users respond to prompts embedded in the content

Fathers continue to be a consistent 30% of the Phonecast user base:

  • 32% of the users onboarded are fathers (55% mothers and 13% other family members). There are no differences in this mix between rural and urban areas. Still, there is a slightly higher number of fathers enrolling from the UNICEF channel (33%), where we work with a mix of community NGOs and Anganwadis, compared to the Direct Government channel (30%), where we work purely through the Anganwadis.
  • The top job profiles were daily wage laborers (37% urban vs 39% rural), farmers (20% urban vs 30% rural), private job holders (27% urban vs 17% rural), and others (11% urban vs 10% rural)
  • To ensure we are reaching out to fathers consistently,
  • Redesigned field worker orientation program to include messaging that the Dost program is for both fathers and mothers and not just for mothers alone.
  • Adding new channels that also reach fathers  - Mothers are the principal beneficiaries of the Anganwadi system, and they don’t interact with fathers regularly; through an MoU signed with the Uttarakhand State Department of Education, we will be working with the parent school committees, and we hope to reach both fathers and mothers. Additionally, through our expanded partnership with UNICEF, we expect to consistently reach fathers through that channel too.

A high proportion of fathers are engaged with the phonecasts:

76% of fathers are highly engaged (vs 83% of mothers) at the end of month 1 of their program,  51% of fathers are highly engaged (vs 60% of mothers) at the end of month 2 of their program after which the engagement stabilizes.

The engagement of fathers is good but is still lower than that of mothers. In addition to this, we also notice user fatigue kicking in as users progress through the program. While user fatigue is expected to occur in any digital experience, we are working to minimize this and also increase the engagement of fathers by designing nudges focused on individual user segments, including fathers. Examples of nudges focused on fathers include: “talking about parenting as a mom AND dad's job, “nudging to use their outside environment more to interact with their child, testimonials from other engaged fathers, etc.” Following successful experiments around how nudging users keeps them engaged consistently, we have done a significant investment in the tech platform to personalize content for user profiles. We have launched the same a month ago.

Both fathers and mothers show improvements in their KAB outcomes in the program, with each doing well along different outcomes:

There is a prevalent deep-rooted attitude amongst many users on gender roles in caregiving - “Father's role is to provide. Mother's role is to care.”

Fathers are typically outside for work and spend less time with the children, while mothers get more time and end up becoming their primary caregivers. But still, we have seen some improvements in mindsets and behaviors in caregivers of all genders through the program. Through the 100+ prompts embedded in the program, we measure KAB outcomes across two big outcome areas:

1. use of ‘talk, care, play,’ and the home environment for the child’s development:

  • Mothers have better awareness, mindset towards practice, and adoption of practices when it comes to playing with and setting routines for their children than fathers. At the same time, fathers recognize the need to play more with their children after listening to the program.undefined
  • While 73% of all caregivers (the same % for fathers and mothers) report that their child plays with household objects, 11% more mothers than fathers (52% of mothers) report regularly playing with their child
  • 68% of mothers (8% more than fathers) report practicing a daily structured routine with their child
  • 48% of fathers (6% more than mothers) report that they feel the need to increase their play interaction with their child after listening to the program

“ I used to be busy with my work and hardly used to spend time with my child, but after listening to the ‘Dular Program’ I got to know the importance of spending time with my child. Now I ensure that I take some time out from my schedule on a daily basis to talk and play with my child. It has become a routine now” - Father of a 5 yr old, Chitrakoot district, Uttar Pradesh

2. creating a safe and emotionally secure environment for the child:

Caregivers of all gender equally feel the need to eliminate toxic stress in the home environment (40%) , but fathers and mothers have different techniques of positive behavior management and in fact mothers fare better when it comes to providing emotional support for their child.undefined

  • 7% more fathers reported to never (or rarely) scolding their child when they throw tantrums or shouting/fighting in front of the child while 37% of mothers (4% more than fathers) now report adopting ‘distracting the child’ over ignoring or scolding them when they throw a tantrum
  • 70% of mothers (5% more than fathers) are aware of toxic stress that can affect the child's whole life
  • 8% more mothers believe that their child is comfortable talking to them about any difficulty they face in the house or outsideundefined

“I used to get drunk and fight with my wife sometimes, after listening to the ‘Dulaar Program’ I got to know how a toxic home environment impacts the child. Now I ensure I do not fight or shout in front of my child. I have even cut down on my alcohol consumption” - Father of a 2 yr old, Banda district, Uttar Pradesh

Key takeaways & Next steps for 2023

By investing our time in understanding the nuances of caregiver interactions through a gender lens, we have a better understanding of how we can increase the involvement of fathers in responsive caregiving. The next steps for us include:

  • Design content: Knowing there is the intent from fathers to be more involved, encourage more fathers to pick up ‘talk, care, play’ practices through content that takes into account their routines and minimal availability at home.
  • Further inquiry: Undertake more inquiry on how fathers can provide a ‘toxic-stress free and emotionally secure’ environment for the child. Some questions on our mind include: “While fathers scold their child less, does the burden of disciplining the child fall on the mother?”, “How can more fathers offer the necessary emotional support for their children?”
  • Expert support: We plan to bring a gender expert on board
  • to review our content and communications from a gender lens
  • to support research that understands mindsets and practices for children of different genders. We have not been able to gather much information here yet, but we hope to use the expert’s help to better our understanding of the current status.

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