10 November 2018

Kenya: Men Have Critical Role in Women's Reproductive Health

A recent Facebook post talked about a woman who sent her husband to buy sanitary pads. The woman spoke of how she sent her husband a photograph on WhatsApp, showing him the name, colour and price of the pad she wanted.

Additionally, she told him the exact shelf he could find the brand and was on call just in case he got stuck. To her utter shock, when he got home, she discovered that he had bought diapers!

If you google the word "birth control", you will come across a plethora of options available. However, if you look closely, more than 80 percent of the methods are for women.

While there are a few options for men, like condoms and withdrawal, if we were to be honest, these still put a woman at risk.

A husband can fail to withdraw, refuse to wear a condom, or wear it incorrectly. Of course, it can also break and if the partner does not have a backup method, the efficacy reduces to 73 percent for withdrawal and 82 percent for condoms.

CULTURE

That means there is between a 20 and 30 percent likelihood that she could get pregnant. Only one method is effective for both men and women: abstinence.

It is free, easy, risk-free and convenient. It is also not encouraged in marriages! So contraception is highly recommended.

These are just but a few examples to show how family planning and reproductive health issues are often portrayed as women's responsibilities yet men play a critical role in women's ability to seek out reproductive healthcare.

This has been going on from time immemorial. Women kept themselves pure for their husbands because their value could drastically increase or decrease due to a pregnancy.

Society made women believe that sexual pleasure was not important for them and the failure to conceive could only be a woman's fault.

These occurrences set a precedent that women's matters are women's but men's matters are for both of genders.

STAKEHOLDERS

As a result, most reproductive health programmes assume that men are neither interested in nor supportive of reproductive health.

When these issues are addressed, men are excluded. Case in point is a study published online in 2016 and titled Efficacy and Safety of an Injectable Combination Hormonal Contraceptive for Men, which says the method was discontinued after recommendations by a safety committee because the side effects were adverse.

Women's contraceptive methods are laden with side effects and warnings but instead of the contraceptives industry looking to engage the men about this, women are encouraged to protect themselves. Here's a polite reminder: "Reproductive health" applies to both men and women.

Men are partners in reproduction and sexuality and must be involved. Their knowledge, attitudes and behaviours impact not only their own wellbeing but also that of the women and children in their lives.

PARTICIPATE

A man who does not take an interest in his partner's reproductive health should ask himself why and then make a plan to be proactive moving forward.

Being involved means becoming intentional and supportive of women's needs, choices and rights in sexual and reproductive health.

This could be knowing key reproductive health issues like how menstruation works, and what it entails; knowing what sanitary pad the women in their lives use and where they can get them, and being supportive.

It also involves understanding what contraception is and how it affects women so that the men can make a point of accompanying their wives to the clinic, as well as be in a position to give informed opinions on what could be best for their wives besides paying for it.

GUIDANCE

Involvement is also taking interest in one's own sexual and reproductive health, knowing how to use male contraceptives properly and using them.

But women are also at fault. They don't take the time to teach the men in our lives these things, thus we end up shutting them out.

We have layers of traditions to peel before it can be normal to speak openly so we should begin as early as possible. We might be surprised at men's willingness to learn and participate.

Ms Wanjohi is the founder of Mazingira Safi Initiative.

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