It is an indisputable fact that men are similarly crucial partners in sexual and reproductive relationships, marriage, and family structures. Thus, in the sexual and reproductive health (SRH) discourse ought to be engaged as equal partners, clients and advocates for change as opposed to being onlookers, hurdles or adversaries. Many a times it has been noted that young boys often shun away from SRH clubs in school, as society has made them believe these are women issues and men have better tables to sit at. Harmful gender and social norms like these have been perpetuated over centuries and continually allow for negative SRH outcomes and gender inequalities in our societies. Until men and boys understand their roles and responsibilities in this sector and fully embrace them will there be positive change and possibly the achievement of a state of reproductive justice in the world.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights encompass efforts to eliminate preventable maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity, to ensure quality sexual and reproductive health services, including contraceptive services, and to address sexually transmitted infections (STI) and cervical cancer, violence against women and girls, and sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescents. Reproductive rights have been on the human rights agenda for over twenty years.
Why the need for male involvement in SRH?
The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo formally recognized the role of men in promoting gender equality and better reproductive health for both men and women.
“It is by standing up for the rights of girls and women that we truly measure up as men”_Desmond Tutu, South African cleric and theologian
According to United Nations, “SRH issues, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV and AIDS, family planning, menstrual hygiene, and maternity-related morbidity, represent 14 percent of the global burden of disease, a proportion that has remained unchanged since 1990.” This is clearly perpetuated, amongst other things, highly by the lack of male involvement in SRH. This lack of prioritization for male involvement plays a role in propagating poor SRH outcomes, a full circle that warrants women to continually bear the obligation of family planning whilst aggravating gender inequalities, and primes sub-optimal health outcomes for men, women, and children. Studies indicate that by neglecting men out of efforts to improve SRH outcomes for women, we inherently fail to successfully challenge the circumstances that customarily control and limit women’s SRH behavior and access to services such as family planning, treatment and care of sexually transmitted diseases as well as HIV/ AIDS.
Achieving full equality needs men — not in the form of men in charge of women’s reproductive decisions but rather men as full, equitable partners invested in their own health and supportive of women’s autonomy. This clearly signals the importance of male engagement in the advancement of SRH. Men who are informed and well versed about reproductive health issues are more certainly to support their partners in decisions on contraceptive use and family planning. This support is critical if women are to practice safe sex, avoid unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions, especially in the Southern African region. More so, in order to safeguard sexual and reproductive health and rights of women, men and boys need to share the responsibility of disease prevention, as well as the risks and benefits of contraception uptake and neglect. The effect of men’s attitudes and behavior on women’s health is perhaps most obvious in regard to the pandemic of AIDS and other STDs, as it has revealed that programs that educate, test and treat only one partner will not be effective in protecting the continued health of both.
How can this be effectively done?
This can be achieved by effectively supporting men to be more caring, gender-equitable, and active in their health and the health of their families by sharing best practices and statistics on how this has yielded favorable outcomes on the well being of themselves and their partners. Governments, CSOs, and community interventions should encourage approaches that motivate men to be agents of positive change and be advocates for gender equality and SRH at large. There is a rampant need for the use of gender trans-formative approaches. Interventions and initiatives throughout the life cycle of such approaches must involve the youth and should provide opportunities for reflecting on and challenging narrow gender roles and unequal power relations, and for practicing healthy, caring behaviors. Lack of a gender trans-formative approach in the SRH discourse allows for the perpetuation of harmful gender and social norms with many effects such as gender based violence, low health seeking behavior as well as economically non empowered young women and girls. The advancement of the MenEngage Alliance is also a great step in male involvement in the SRHR discourse as alliance members work collectively and individually toward advancing gender justice, human rights and social justice to achieve a world in which all can enjoy healthy, fulfilling and equitable relationships and their full potential. There is also need for programs addressing various components of SRH to use male role models to speak up against acts of violence perpetrated on women within their various communities or regions; such as child marriages, intimate partner violence and domestic violence. These role models should be drawn from all sectors, including sports, religion and community leaders. This will promote and stimulate male engagement in the sexual and reproductive health and rights discourse when they see the people they look up to taking the lead role.
CSOs, governments, churches and movements in SRH should design programs and interventions within which the role of men in the discourse is utterly emphasized, until men start to take up roles and responsibilities as change-makers, protectors and support givers that are needed for the advancement, full attainment and enjoyment of SRH by their partners, family members ad society at large. Men should also be encouraged to take small steps towards this cause by volunteering for positive causes of gender equality and women’s rights protection such as the Men Engage movement. Mainstream media should start showcasing prominent male figures taking the lead role in SRH advancement. This would cultivate a culture among-st other men of male involvement in SRH and prompt them to follow suit and bring about positive change in sexual and reproductive health. Indeed male involvement in the Sexual and Reproductive Health discourse is the final ingredient that will bring-with positive change.
Hook, C., Miller, A., Shand, T., & Stiefvater, E. (2018). Getting to Equal: Engaging Men and Boys in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and Gender Equality. Washington, DC: Promundo-US.
Cornell, M., McIntyre, J., & Myer, L. (2011). Men and antiretroviral therapy in Africa: Our blind spot. Tropical Medicine & International Health, 16(7), 828-829
Ezeh A, Seroussi M and Raggers H, Men’s Fertility, Contraceptive Use, and Reproductive Preferences, Demographic and Health Surveys Comparative Studies, Calverton, MD, USA: Macro International, 1996, No. 18; Grady W et al., Men’s perceptions of their roles and responsibilities regarding sex, contraception and childrearing, Family Planning Perspectives, 1996, 28(6):221-226; and Omondi-Odhiambo, Men’s participation in family planning decisions in Kenya, Population Studies, 1997, 51(1):29-40
Vernon R, Ojeda G. and Vega A, Making vasectomy services more acceptable to men, International Family Planning Perspectives, 17(2):55-60, 1991
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