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Men Must Be Part of the Solution – Sharing Realities from Uganda to the United States

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By Priyanka Ghosh, Manager, Communications and Marketing, EngenderHealth

The annual Social Good Summit is always an event I’d catch online, but this year was different because I had the opportunity to attend in-person, and it did not disappoint. One of the great sessions that I attended was the Social Good Master Class, which offered some great insight into the role of men and boys in family planning.

The class is an opportunity for global bloggers and development practitioners to learn from thought leaders who “defied norms to make a difference.” The session was entitled “Family Planning: Not Just for Women” and focused on the need to engage men and boys as clients, partners, and agents of change to achieve global sexual and reproductive health goals and equality. Here are some highlights:

Elman Nsinda, journalist, citizen activist, and member of the White Ribbon Alliance from Uganda, sparked the conversation by sharing a recent incident in Uganda when a man refused to pay a medical center 50,000 Ugandan shillings (around $20 USD) to help his wife, who was in labor. In the absence of skilled medical care, his wife died—a tragic and needless death. According to Nsinda, in most families men are the decision makers when it comes to sexual relations and reproductive health, including whether or when women can seek health care. He said, “In Africa, men decide. It is therefore important to reach out to them, as they exercise control over critical decisions.” Nsinda recommended that social and health programs be more welcoming to men and boys, who need to play constructive roles in promoting health.

Jenifer DeAtley, Director of U.S. Programs and the Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Advisor at EngenderHealth, shared her experiences from the Gender Matters (Gen.M) project in Travis County, Texas. This state currently has the third highest teenage pregnancy rate in the United States, with more than 73,000 girls becoming pregnant each year. The project works toward preventing teenage pregnancies by engaging young people in discussions around healthy relationships, consent, gender, sexually transmitted infections, and contraceptive options. Jenifer shared a key takeaway from EngenderHealth’s long-standing work with men, which is that synchronizing programs to focus on both men and women, girls and boys, increases the likelihood of success and leads to better health outcomes. She added, “It is important to make young people see where gender norms come from in their daily lives, recognize these influences, and empower them to redefine who they want to be as young men and women. When we engage them in such conversations, it helps them to build more stable homes inside their own relationships.”

To date, however, reaching young men has been challenging: “Young fathers [have] often been one of the hardest communities to tap into. There are few services designed for young men, particularly young fathers. Young men are hesitant to go to health clinics because there is fear and stigma associated with accessing health care services. It’s understandable, because often advertisements for clinics are designed in a way that gives the impression that it is a woman’s space. It is important to have messaging that’s welcoming, particularly for young men. They should be able to walk into these spaces and not feel that they are in the wrong spot. It is important to have a human-centered approach that puts young people first.”

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Jenifer DeAtley, Director of U.S. Programs and the Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Advisor at EngenderHealth, shares her perspective at the Social Good Master Class 2016, New York. Image credit: Staff / EngenderHealth

The moderator, Alencia Johnson, from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, wrapped up the session by asking Elman and Jenifer what they hoped would be the impact of their work involving men and boys. Elman reinforced that since men are often the decision makers in his community, it is important that they are encouraged to be responsible and held accountable for their behaviors. Jenifer mentioned that she hopes EngenderHealth’s work in sexual and reproductive health and rights will help move the needle on many of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Based on the recurring theme throughout the session, it was evident that in the future, countries and donors must increase investment in and create programs that focus on engaging both men and women as part of the solution to achieve health and equality.

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