LILLIAN BANDA, Lusaka
"I HAVE made it a point to support my wife in matters of family planning, including access to contraceptives. This has given me the opportunity to have more understanding of her reproductive health needs. It has also enabled us to make sound decisions for our family and in the process we are bonding more as a couple,” says Given Chileshe, 40, a resident of Chililabombwe town on the Copperbelt Province.
In an interview at a health facility where he had taken his second born child for check-up, Mr Chileshe implored men to take keen interest in family planning programmes.
“It is important for couples to have time to discuss family planning issues beyond just the number of children they intend to have. A man should show that he cares about his partner’s wellbeing by finding out what family planning methods work well for her. Men should also find time to attend family planning meetings with their wives. These meetings are so informative and educative that they help to build healthy relations between couples,” he said.
And a Kitwe resident, Brian Muchimba, has challenged society to adopt practices that encourage and facilitate the involvement of men in family planning programmes. Muchimba, 26, says it is also important that men demonstrate care for their partners’ health and wellbeing by having open discussions about family planning.
“A responsible man will not shy away from such discussions because he knows that his partner’s health is key to a fulfilling relationship. We need to do away with any cultural norms that suggest that family planning is a woman’s burden. Couples should have conversations around family planning and contraception use,” he said.
A review of a recent studies and reports on reproductive health and access to contraception point to the fact that 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 which could result in abortions. It generally also improves the health status and wellbeing of women as well as that of their families.
Ensuring that women of reproductive age have access to contraception also leads to achieving gender parity and fulfilling a range of reproductive health rights and responsibilities.
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 those working to advance male involvement in family planning assert that including men in reproductive health initiatives helps not only in accessing and accepting a contraceptive but also in its effective use and continuation.
“Family planning programmes were in the past focused on women. The idea was to give women some breathing space from childbearing as well as to reduce cases of maternal and infant mortality by encouraging the use of modern contraceptives. This, however, somewhat reinforced the idea that family planning was essentially a woman’s business with the man playing a very peripheral role.
But since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), interest in men’s involvement in reproductive health has increased. Men are now being included in family planning programmes to encourage and facilitate their partner’s contraception choice and use,” explains Zambian National Men’s Network National Coordinator Nelson Banda.
He added that having more men involved in reproductive health and family planning programmes can help to improve women and children’s health outcomes and to reduce incidences of gender based violence (GBV).
“While there has been some tremendous progress made with regard to the participation of men in family planning, there is need to do more and devise better approaches. There still some men today that have misgivings about contraceptives hence the need for stakeholders to explore innovative ways of reaching out to everyone concerned,” says Mr Banda.
And a community based health group has called for more support towards programmes aimed at increasing both female and male participation in family planning.
“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 a fact that a man has significant influence on a couple’s contraception choices and use hence the need to have both women and men fully involved in family planning including access to contraceptives,” observe Safe Motherhood Action Group (SMAG) Chairperson for Lusaka’s Chawama area Grace Milala.
She further points out some of the outstanding benefits of including men in family planning programmes that her community has recorded.
“We have seen through our work in the community that men that attend family planning programmes are more caring in that they show interest in their partner’s health needs. They also get involved in programmes seeking to promote responsible parenthood and stop violence against women and children,” she noted.
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.