Book-sharing for Fathers in South Africa

About this project

copy of gpi brand maps south africa yellow
  South Africa
  01 August 2021 – 31 July 2022
Principal Investigators Professor Cathy Ward (University of Cape Town); Ms Lauren van Niekerk (University of Cape Town)
Co-Investigators Professor Peter Cooper (University of Reading); Professor Lynne Murray (University of Reading); Ms Kaathima Ebrahim (Mikhulu Trust); Dr Wessel van den Berg (Sonke Gender Justice)
Partners Mikhulu Trust and Sonke Gender Justice
Funders LEGO Foundation


Research Study to test the impact of training fathers in a dialogic book-sharing programme on their level of sensitive parenting. Anticipated primary and secondary outcomes of this study include benefit to fathers’ book-sharing skills; an increase in fathers’ book-sharing in the home, enhanced child cognitive and socio-emotional development, increased father participation in other aspects of parenting, reduced harsh parenting; and that fathers’ attitudes to parenting becoming more gender equitable.


Violent behaviour in adolescence and adulthood has been shown to develop when children’s normal expression of aggression, which generally peaks at two-three years, fails to follow the normal trajectory of emotion regulation, as children learn adaptive ways of managing their aggressive impulses. Instead, if child aggression becomes persistent and pervasive by age three-to-four, it is a strong risk factor for later aggressive behaviour, accounting for more than half of all adolescent and adult violent crimes, including gender-based violence against women. This negative developmental pathway to violence is predicted by three early parenting difficulties: unresponsive/insensitive parenting, leading to children’s insecure attachment; harsh/inconsistent parenting, leading to child behaviour problems; and poor cognitive stimulation and support, leading to child cognitive problems and educational failure. 

“Dialogic book-sharing” (DBS) is an early positive parenting intervention that stands to make a major contribution to violence prevention. It has been shown in rigorous research to significantly improve the three problematic aspects of parenting with corresponding reductions in early child risk for later violent behaviour. However, DBS programmes have almost exclusively been directed at mothers. As such, this study will adapt the DBS programme for delivery to fathers with the aim of reducing parenting risk factors for the development of violence and increasing child secure attachment, prosocial-behaviour, and cognitive skills.


Dialogic book-sharing (DBS) is a simple, brief, and scaleable intervention that has been shown in several countries, including South Africa, to reduce both the parenting and early child risk factors for the development of violence. In adapting this programme for delivery to fathers, it can contribute to the intergenerational perpetuation of violence. Considering this, our study has the following objectives: 

  1. To adapt the existing dialogic book-sharing programme, shown to be successful with South African mothers, to make it suitable for delivery to fathers

  2. To conduct a pilot randomised controlled trial with a wait-list control to evaluate the efficacy of the adapted programme

  3. To use the findings of this trial to inform further intervention adaptations (if necessary), which will form the basis of the formulation of a future larger randomised controlled trial


Project Setting

Our research will be conducted in Gugulethu, a peri-urban settlement 15km from Cape Town, South Africa. Gugulethu comprises a population of around 100,000 predominantly Black isiXhosa speaking people. Our research will be conducted from the Gugulethu Wellness Centre, a community facility that is a joint development between Sonke Gender Justice and the City of Cape Town. 

Significance and Wider Impact

This research project gives us an opportunity to identify a new mechanism to tackle gender-based violence, and more generally, violence prevention in South Africa. By focusing on the preventative measures in childhood, that are risk factors for violence in adulthood, we are developing a new approach that will be integral to the collective systemic approach to reducing violence against women.