The side event, which will be held tomorrow, 13th November 2018 at Kigali Serena Hotel, Rwanda, has the theme “The Role Of Gender In Sexual And Reproductive Health And Rights And Family Planning – What Do Men Have To Do With It?”
Gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men such as norms, roles and relationships of, and between, groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and can be changed. Gender norms are rules or expectations that shape and regulate appropriate behaviour for males and females and influence sexual and reproductive health. In traditional African societies, men often had more say than women do in family decisions, such as the timing of marriage, child-bearing and family size. These gender discrimination and inequities limit women’s and men’s access to good quality Reproductive Health or Family Planning (RH/FP) services. They hinder women’s ability to negotiate even for condom use and place greater constraints on women’s access to RH/FP services.
Gender norms that idealised sexual ignorance for women and girls and sexual prowess for men and boys exist in many countries. These norms can impede women and girls’ access to information and services and their ability to negotiate sexual relationships. Men can play a very important role in challenging inequitable gender norms and fostering positive norms, particularly among their peers and with their children. Engaging men and boys can lead individuals and communities to reflect on norms, expectations and gender roles pertaining to reproductive health, family size, care-giving, and contraception at different life stages.
When done right, involving men as partners in family planning yields huge benefits for women and families. It can lead to more gender equitable attitudes, better couple communication and improved contraceptive use. Involving men in family planning and encouraging them to have open discussions with their partners about family planning can significantly improve women’s access to family planning services and commodities. This, in turn, helps to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies.
It generally also improves the health status and well-being of women as well as that of their families. Men have long been seen to be responsible for the large proportion of poor reproductive health outcomes suffered by their female partners. It is for this reason that working to advance male involvement in family planning could help not only in accessing and accepting family planning, but also in its effective use and continuation.
The more the men are involved in reproductive health and family planning programmes, the more it can help to improve women and children’s health outcomes and to reduce incidences of gender-based violence (GBV). Access to family planning services helps to prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), prevents unintended pregnancies and promotes safe motherhood practices. It is evident that a man can have a significant influence on a couple’s contraception choices and use, hence, the need to have both women and men fully involved in family planning. We have seen through work in the community that men who attend family planning programmes are more caring and show interest in their partners’ health needs. They also seek to promote responsible parenthood and stop violence against women and children.
Reproductive health choices are essential to a healthy pregnancy, healthy children as well as healthier and lifestyles. But male involvement in family planning entails more than just increasing the number of men using condoms or having vasectomies. It also entails increasing the number of women and men that encourage their peers and partners to seek family planning services and commodities and influence the development and implementation of gender responsive reproductive health policies and programmes.
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