Features

Men, key partners in addressing reproductive health challenges

SHIKANDA KAWANGWA
WORLD over men constitute an important aspect of efforts to improve women’s health. And involving them in addressing the challenges faced by women in Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) is the way to go.
Sexual reproductive health is the concept of human rights applied to sexuality and reproduction. It is a combination of four fields that in some contexts are more or less distinct from each other. These four fields are sexual health, sexual rights, reproductive health and reproductive rights.
These four fields are treated as separate but inherently intertwined.
Despite these obligations, violations of women’s sexual and reproductive health rights are frequent. These take many forms including denial of access to services, or poor quality services, subjecting women’s access to third party authorisation, and performance of procedures related to women’s reproductive and sexual health without the woman’s consent such as forced sterilisation, forced virginity examinations, and forced abortion.
Women’s sexual and reproductive health rights are also at risk when they are subjected to early marriage. To maintain one’s sexual and reproductive health, people need access to accurate information on the safe, effective, affordable and acceptable contraception method of their choice. They must be informed and empowered to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections. And when they decide to have children, women must have access to services that can help them have a fit pregnancy, safe delivery and healthy baby.
Every individual has the right to make their own choices about their sexual and reproductive health.
As such, involving men in SRH is central to the achievement of rights within and beyond the health sector.
Often overlooked but very important is the role played by men and their relationships with women, which entails that there is little excuse for overlooking them in this regard.
Male involvement is central to improving SRH, but unfortunately the call for involving men is limited.
There is no doubt that men have their own set of unmet SRH needs and concerns that need to be addressed.
An approach that addresses men as partners reflects the view that men can improve and impede women’s use and access of SRH.
However, men must be viewed as allies and resources in efforts to improve contraceptive prevalence rates and other dimensions of reproductive health by focusing on men as clients.
Another approach is the consideration of men as agents of positive change by acknowledging the fundamental role men play in supporting women’s reproductive health and in transforming the social roles that restrict SRH rights.
It is important to know that male partners may also significantly influence the use of other female methods if they are not well informed.
Men may control the economic resources required to access these methods or may indirectly impede or directly prohibit women from visiting health facilities to access these methods, or may not approve of women’s actual use of these methods causing women to use contraceptives secretly as a way to avoid confrontation from their unsupportive and uninformed partners.
The need to sensitise men on SRH issues cannot be overemphasised as poorly informed men in under-served rural areas may not fully recognise the grave symptoms during labour that should convince them to take their wives to secondary or tertiary health centres for care.
In some unfortunate circumstances, once a man is not enlightened on reproductive health, violence against women is known to increase during pregnancy. Men behaving irresponsibly or unsupportively may be a source of chronic stress for women, a condition known to negatively affect the course and outcome of a woman’s pregnancy.
Due to lack of information, men may perpetuate harmful local myths about good health practices for women during pregnancy. Because men mediate women’s access to economic resources in many parts of the world, women’s nutritional status, especially during pregnancy, may depend heavily on partners.
Many men do not understand how their lack of knowledge affects those close to them. Men need to be educated about the risks their behaviour can pose for their own health and that of their sexual partners.
Women have been the principal targets of sexual and reproductive health services over the past decades and men’s participation has been minimal.
If men are involved and supported as equal partners better outcomes in sexual and reproductive health indicators, such as contraception acceptance, safer sexual behaviours, use of reproductive health services and reduction in SRH related morbidity and mortality, can be expected.
In fact, neglecting to provide information and services for men can negatively affect women’s overall health. For example, men who are educated about reproductive health issues are more likely to support their partners in decisions on contraceptive use and family planning
The author is Livingstone based Zambia Daily Mail correspondent.

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