Caregiving in Crisis: Fatherhood Refashioned by Sierra Leone’s Ebola Epidemic

Father and son walk hand-in-hand. Photo by, Kristen E. McLean.


In much of the literature on Sierra Leone, young men have been recognized for perpetrating violence or resisting authority. This characterization extended into the Ebola crisis, as young men were depicted as “resisting” public health measures. In contrast, little scholarship has focused on men’s roles as caregivers during the epidemic. This article draws on ethnographic research conducted between 2014 and 2016 in eastern Sierra Leone to demonstrate how men contributed to caregiving. Findings reveal that when men were unable to care via established means, they improvised new ways to care for their families, which included: paid labor in Ebola treatment facilities; protecting their families from risk of infection; and hands‐on nurturing. By focusing on these diverse types of male caregiving, this article challenges the ways in which “care” and “women” are often neatly linked and calls for a rethinking of stereotypes associating African men with violence.