Africa - Engage Men in Women’s Health

07 November 2012

The Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal, Newborn and Child Mortality in Africa (CARMMA) has shown conclusively that childbirth and pregnancy continue to be dangerous for too many women in Africa.

A mix of issues and concerns seems to be slowing progress towards achieving the kind of drastic reduction in the health of mothers and infants that we need to see. However, research from numerous settings finds that when men are present in informed, caring and sensitive ways in the pre-natal and birthing phases, women experience less stressful delivery and are more likely to have the best available health care. So far male engagement in CARMMA has been low and in-country maternal and other health services seem skeptical about men’s commitment to this very basic start to family life, parenting and the involvement of both parents in the care of our women and children.

Men often have control over whether their pregnant partners can access maternal health services; but too often men are not aware of the danger signs of life-threatening risks of delivery or of the life-saving capacity of family planning services and information. Men who are present from the prenatal phase through childbirth are more likely to be connected and attached to their children from the earliest moments, establishing the basis for life-long, close relationships with their children.

Too often, though, health professionals, pregnant women and men themselves do not see men as allies in safe childbirth, thus excluding men from the process, increasing maternal risk and reinforcing gender inequalities. Too little has been done to engage men to improve maternal health and birth outcomes. Men can and should be allies for their birthing partners, and need to be informed about maternal health and the signs of health risks before, during and after pregnancy and childbirth. Health care systems, health care professionals, and midwives should all work to engage fathers in the childbirth process.

Before the current concern for male involvement began, reproductive health issues and services had become synonymous with women's reproductive health, and men were assumed to have no special interest in such matters.

"It is naïve -- and even harmful -- to consider that maternal health is a topic that is reserved for women. In truly prioritizing maternal health, actors from all corners of each community -- especially men as fathers and fathers-to-be -- need to be key contributors to the dialogue and actions."

Article By Trevor Davies,

Director of the African Fathers Initiative