Tom Churchyard, Executive Director of KI
Competition winners and their families
I consider it an honor to be here with you today. I know we all agree on the importance of raising the next generation, and that children should be supported, protected, and nurtured as they grow. This event celebrates the impact fathers have on their children’s lives. I understand that the letters submitted to the “Letter to my Father” essay contest this year were inspirational and poignant, and I look forward to Tom’s announcement of the winner.
The U.S. Embassy was pleased to support Kwakha Indvodza’s “Babe Locotfo” or Good Father campaign from its inception, and we are even more pleased to see the initiative continuing with the momentum we have built. Reaching young fathers and educating them on the significant role they play in the lives of their children, their families, and their communities is vitally important. There is no question that a present and engaged father contributes to cohesive, resilient families, and in turn builds cohesive, resilient communities.
I understand that the letters submitted this year were mostly positive, which gladdens my heart, and they all show one simple truth: children see it all. We know this is true, and as parents, caregivers and community members, it bears reminding. Children see how we treat each other, and they model that behavior. If children watch positive male role models respecting women and embracing gender equity, they internalize these lessons. Fathers and father-figures, in particular, have a vital role to play, in driving and creating communities that value respect and gender equality.
In researching for this speech, I looked for data on the impact of fatherless children in Eswatini, and I could not find much. However, if the U.S. experience is any guide, the impact is deeply troubling. In the U.S., girls who grow up in a fatherless household are seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teenager. Children who grow up without a father are 4 times more likely to live in poverty, and twice as likely to drop out of high school. These statistics are stark. They paint a clear picture of how the absence of fathers negatively impact children’s lives.
This campaign teaches fathers about the powerful role they play in the lives of their children, and by extension the next generation of Emaswati. It empowers them to connect with their families and to be the change that shuns violence of all shades toward women and girls. And this forms the building blocks of a more equitable society. As we struggle to eliminate violence of all kinds, especially in the face of a discouraging upswing of gender-based violence and domestic violence due to COVID-19 lockdowns, a critical element of our work must be changing mindsets that rationalize and normalize violence. This is something we can, and must, achieve.
Additionally, programs such as Babe Locotfo teach fathers and parents how to how to deal with conflict constructively. This campaign actively works to build a generation that views violence as unacceptable, by providing children the benefit of father-figures who have fully invested in and cared for them, without using force. Fathers have a tremendous role to play in being present, building stability, and eliminating violence against children, women, and girls.
The U.S. Embassy is pleased to work with Kwakha Indvodza and many other organizations to address gender-based violence, empower women and girls, prevent sexual assault, and address the power imbalance that feeds cycles of abuse and violence. This is all part of our deep commitment to help form a healthy, inclusive Eswatini that values healing, inclusivity, dialogue, and human rights.
We know that gender-based violence is one of the most prevalent human rights abuses in the world, and in Eswatini. But it’s not the only one.
At this moment, in the wake of civil unrest that shook Eswatini to its core last month, we all need to look for ways to eschew violence and solve conflict constructively. We must encourage healing and inclusivity and respect human rights, as well as accountability for abuses. Inclusive dialogue that respects the viewpoints of many different voices is how to constructively deal with frustration and it will create fertile grounds for national healing. We must be willing to hear voices of all kinds; the government, stakeholders, and organizations must be willing to listen to each other. The people of Eswatini have the constitutional right to be heard through their Members of Parliament and through petitions they submit at community level. This is the core of constructive resolution of conflict: listening and respect.
Positive role models exist at all levels in society—through leaders, through strong institutions, through fathers in a family. We must encourage respect and listening in order to heal and move this country into a future that delivers to all Emaswati the promise of peace, stability, and economic prosperity.
I am so grateful that Kwakha Indvodza invited me to speak with you today. I am a huge fan of the incredibly important work they are doing. We all need to be constantly working on investing in the next generation wherever we may be in the world, and KI approaches this responsibility with tremendous thoughtfulness, creativity, and persistence.
Finally, congratulations to the winners of this amazing contest! I look forward to the announcement of the winners. And to the young writers: thank you! Thank you for reminding us of the vital importance of fathers and father-figures as role models that shape your lives, and our communities.