Is There Room for Men in Reproductive Health?


Today, on World Population Day, it is time for all men—as fathers, brothers, husbands, community and religious leaders, and government officials—to become partners in maternal health. (UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid)

A message is a message, but support for male involvement programmes seems quite an ask when there is insufficient funding for women's reproductive health around the globe. Tim Shand, who is in charge of male involvement programmes at the International Planned Parenthood Federation, says it is not about money, but a change of focus. "We need to re-orientate, not necessarily increase funding," he argues. "Are abortion services for women? Or for men and families too? While we maintain that reproductive health is a women's issue, it will remain a low priority and not part of the real politique."

Shand welcomes UNFPA's focus on male involvement, and says that there is evidence to prove that male involvement programmes do genuinely work. But he takes a hard line about differentiating programmes for men and programmes for women. "It is not either women, or men. At IPPF, we are supporting projects that want men and women to work together to improve their reproductive and sexual health."

Here in the UK, The Brook Advisory Centres are working to ensure that young men are involved, engaged and empowered in their thinking about sexual health. Brook Chief Executive Simon Blake explains:

If we don't work with young men early then the myth that sexual health is just about women will be maintained throughout these boys' lives. The old-fashioned gender differentiations where men are perceived as tough and non-emotional are just too limiting and inaccurate. At Brook, we are seeking to help boys and men to improve their sexual and emotional health within the real context of relationships with other people.

Back in 1999, The UK Government strategy on teenage pregnancy cited men and boys as being half the problem and also half the solution. A decade later, organizations such as Brook seem to be treating men and boys as individuals instead of the enemy. And in a wider international arena, IPPF seems to be working to find common ground within relationships between men and women.

So I'm not so sure the male involvement in reproductive health message is so smart. I know men are half the problem. (Politically, economically and socially they may be rather more than that.) But I think the other half of this particular problem is to make them want to be partners rather than being told to be partners. And in that process we need to explain to them why they need to be involved, not to remind them why they are not.

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