Communication as a problem: Involving men in sexual and reproductive health conversations
Sexual and reproductive health (SRH) conversations around the world have focused more on the responsibilities of women and girls. Boys and men in many African countries have largely been sidelined in SRH discussions yet men are reported to be the primary decision-makers regarding sexual and reproductive issues in their families.
In many cases, men have admitted to having limited information on sexual and reproductive health, making their decisions on family planning and maternal and child care alarmingly flawed. A sizeable population of men, especially in the rural settings need quality information on sexual preparedness, safe sex, caring for pregnant women, effective nutrition for children, adolescents and expectant and nursing mothers, and family planning.
Although some sexual and reproductive health rights campaigns have involved boys and men, especially educating them on their role in reducing discrimination against girls and women and stigma related to their reproductive ability and health needs from menstrual products to contraception, these issues are still foreign to a huge population of men.
Social norms related to masculinity continue to promote risky sexual behaviors and discourage men and boys from taking care of themselves and seeking essential health services when need arises.
Part of the problem barring men’s participation and involvement in the reproductive health conversation is anchored on lack of effective communication and information sharing. Health stakeholders’ choice of information channels and settings to educate boys and men have not comprehensively factored in the right spaces where men would feel comfortable and safe to listen and engage in sexual and reproductive health conversation.
A study done in Zambia and published in 2021 on men’s perceptions of sexual and reproductive health education within the context of pregnancy and HIV revealed that “most men felt that antenatal care was not a conducive setting to fully educate men on sexual and reproductive health because it is a woman’s space where their health concerns were generally neglected.”
The feeling is the same for boys and men in other communities. Effective communication strategy targeting the male gender need to identify a conversational environment where men feel their masculinity is reinforced and not experiencing a severe erosion of their manliness during the discussion.
An effective sexual and reproductive health education campaign targeting boys and men should avoid strategies that strive to radically change the essence of masculinity but rather integrate values of masculinity that drive men to take an active role and responsibility in improving their reproductive health and that of their partners.
Article by David Njiru