Zimbabwe is struggling to involve men in family planning and other health related issues. And this is widening the gap in the country’s contraceptive uptake rate. According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (2014), Zimbabwe’s contraceptive prevalence for women stands at 67% while the unmet need is at 10.4 %. Although male involvement in family planning is vital, it is often overlooked as a means of outreach in Zimbabwe.
Stanzia Moyo, cites the 2005-6 Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS) in a journal paper which states that only 26% of Zimbabwean men make use of contraceptives yet 56% of the male population is recorded to have knowledge on their use. In my quest to understand why men shun family planning programmes, I realised that cultural practices, caused by gender inequality, often act as a barrier. In most, if not all, societies in Zimbabwe men view family planning issues sezvinhu zvevakadzi. Some men I interacted with stated plainly that it is not culturally correct for them to be involved in family planning programmes. In fact, they said their duty is simply to provide their partners with transport fare as well as other resources needed by their wives for family planning.
I was not surprised by their assertions as Zimbabwean society still staunchly believes in patriarchy and patriarchal practices. In the domain of the family, men hold authority over women and children; and as a result, family planning practice.
Misinformation about family planning
In addition to cultural practices, the negative attitude of health workers often pushes men away from family planning issues. Most health workers badly treat pregnant women and also, it is difficult to find male workers who are family planning service providers at most clinics.
Chatting with a friend about family planning issues one day, he said pills used by women for family planning cause cancer. Though my friend was not sure about that, as his sentiments were not backed by any research, he was adamant that he would never allow his wife to use them. My good friend also vowed never to be involved in family planning programmes.
His case is not an isolated one as a lot of men abandon family planning programmes due to myths and misinformation or rumours passed within social networks about complications and side effects. Without accurate information on the benefits of various methods of family planning, men are more likely to resist supporting family planning use.
Greater male involvement means safer relationships
However, one thing for sure is that the involvement of males in family planning issues is a fool proof intervention in the promotion of safer relationships as partners enhance their communication around parenting and child spacing. Enhanced spousal communication, without doubt, leads to informed family planning; something which, I dare say, not many couples actually have a conversation about prior to entering into a marital union.
To achieve greater participation of men in family planning as well as augment spousal communication, I strongly urge health service providers in the country to act as both motivators of men and their confidantes. I also encourage the family planning clinics to have more male service providers in family planning clinics as this will definitely increase the proportion of male clients who will patronise family planning services.
As someone who believes that information is power, my feeling is that stakeholders in the health sector must also use effectual communication strategies so as to educate men on reproductive health and family planning. Successful communication mechanisms can promote sharing and stimulate joint decision-making among partners in terms of contraceptive choice in addition to family planning.
Society should be made conscious about family planning and the significance of male participation therein. Honestly, male involvement in family planning means more than increasing the number of men using condoms and having vasectomies as it includes the number of men who encourage and support their partners as well as their peers to use family planning services.
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