Father’s Day sounds new to our ears, as we are used to International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day. After all, International Women’s Day has been celebrated in the USA since 1910 and Mother’s Day since 1914. However, Father’s Day is a more recent holiday with arguably much less fanfare. This Father’s Day, let us celebrate the important role that men play in promoting sexual and reproductive health (SRH) for their families.
For Tanzania to achieve the key Millennium Development Goals of promoting gender equality, improving maternal health and combating HIV and AIDS as well as successfully implementing its National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty, improved sexual and reproductive health; and women’s health is of paramount importance. Women, most especially those from rural and other geographically marginalized populations, are generally not well informed of their rights and many of their SRH needs go unmet.
At the same time, efforts to empower women, increase their use of SRH services, and improve their SRH overall are often undermined by the actions of men. Such actions include control or refusal to use family planning, multiple partners, and gender-based violence. In the name of culture and tradition, women and girls are often treated like second-class citizens, and therefore, must put up with these actions.
Men, as husbands and fathers, are in most cases the decision-makers in Tanzania in matters related to their family and their community, regardless of their ignorance on an issue, such as SRH. Without addressing the traditional norms of masculinity and its influence on sexual relationships, SRH and gender equality, the success of efforts to promote the rights and empowerment of women and girls is often limited.
Yet, there are a few known best practices of male involvement in SRH and HIV and AIDS prevention. Projects like Tanzanian Men as Equal Partners (TMEP), by encouraging men’s participation in sexual and reproductive health in clinics and in the community, have been able to demonstrate the value added by engaging men in SRH. Men in Rukwa and Singida regions are now reported to increasingly visit SRH clinics as clients as well as partners of women. Harmful male norms that dictate that issues of family planning, SRH and maternal and child health are not a man’s business are being broken down with increasing appreciation by men. As everyday citizens, each of us should carry that message to fathers. Which brings us back to Father’s Day. This Father’s Day, we should remind and praise fathers for their actual contribution and challenge fathers on their potential contribution to family welfare.
Principally, fathers are supposed to be seen as role models in everyday life and not on Father’s Day only. However, fathers can use the day to evaluate the contribution that they make and their responsibility to support SRH. Men as partners of women, therefore, need to reflect on how much time they spend with their families, get feedback on how they fill their roles, and discuss with their spouses what they both enjoy and what challenges they face as fathers. Men as fathers are important stakeholders of maternal and child health. A father’s commitment to family welfare can play a huge role in the stability of families and their communities.
For many years men have been seen as a hurdle in the journey towards women’s empowerment and family welfare in general. While many men do not fulfill their responsibilities as fathers, many are supportive of their families. Men need to be reached with information and education. These efforts need not to be confined to Father’s Day only, but need to appeal to men to make it a normal behavior for them to treat and take women as equal partners and support and promote the sexual and reproductive health of all.
By Cuthbert Maendaenda, Tanzania Men as Equal Partners, Tanzania
Tanzania Men as Equal Partners project is implemented by RFSU. RFSU is a member of MenEngage Tanzania, a network made up of 19 partners whose aim is to strengthen the accessibility of health services to promote men as partners in gender equality, HIV prevention, and improved reproductive health outcomes.