In our Rwandan culture, men remain the major decision-makers concerning health issues in many households. We do recognise that men have an important influence on women’s and children’s health, and also have distinct reproductive health needs of their own.
The limited involvement of male countrymates in some activities related to the care of their wives and newborns, does not necessarily mean that they are uninformed about reproductive issues and childbearing. Some men still consider these issues as ‘women’s business’.
The reproductive health programmes should be based on a better understanding of gender dynamics, the changing needs of individuals throughout their lives and their decision-making processes.
Health workers have to be more gender sensitive on sensitising men on reproductive health. Research and programme experience are demonstrating that many men care about and are willing to make positive contributions to the reproductive health of their partners and well-being of their families when mobilised.
A typical example of our country mates is in Gicumbi District, where, after a training of only one month in August 2008, about 60 men got sterilised at the district hospital of Byumba; and many others are still going to the hospital.
There is a move among the male community to help their wives and to be involved to regulate and reduce population growth.
Despite the surge of interest in this area, there is a lack of consensus about what it means to involve men in reproductive health programmes and uncertainty about how such involvement will affect women’s health and status and how it affects the “sexual activity” of men after sterilisation; and health professionals have to convince and reassure men that their virility won’t be impaired.
For men’s concerns in sexual and reproductive health, we have to make sure that confidentiality is maintained for both men and women. We have to increase male awareness and support of the reproductive health choices of their partners.
There is, therefore, a need to undertake wider community education so that more men can be persuaded to participate in their partners’ maternity care, to train other men, to simply have a “men to men” training.
If we start now (it is long overdue), we in Rwanda will have a safe passage to adulthood for our young parents-to-be, and a community of focused wise guys.
We should focus more on men now; involve them more as partners to decrease population growth and to increase population prosperity.
The writer is the minister of Gender and Family Promotion