Men can't get pregnant, but they should care.

Making a baby takes two, and raising a family also takes a strong partnership. However, most African mothers are left trying to handle everything on their own, from the very moment they become pregnant. Africa’s dominant patriarchal society has significant implications for maternal health and family rearing, and if we are to help mothers in Africa, we must also recruit fathers.

Pregnancy and family rearing are viewed as exclusively women’s affairs. Men are often excluded from the pregnancy process – expecting fathers often are not allowed to remain in the room when antenatal examinations are conducted, and there is a general disconnect between reproductive health knowledge and men. Although men are not actively engaged during pregnancy, they hold an enormous amount of sway over their partner’s reproductive decisions. 87.7 percent of women have husbands who are solely responsible for family planning. Every pregnancy in Africa is affected by men, whether men choose to take responsibility or not.

The exclusion of men from the maternal process ultimately negatively affects the pregnancy outcome and weakens family bonds. As head of the family, men have a disproportionate amount of sway over when a woman becomes pregnant and what happens afterwards; he can keep her from leaving the house to visit the doctor or subject her to dangerous traditional birth practices. Men can also propagate harmful cultural beliefs about pregnancy and birth which can ultimately endanger the mother’s health and safety.

Although African men do not realize how helpful their presence can be during their partners’ pregnancies, male involvement can have enormous positive impacts on maternal mortality and family stability. Men can reach out to community elders, leaders, and religious leaders in order to advocate for pregnant women. For this Father’s Day, we should all think about how to include more of Africa’s fathers to create healthier and happier families. Men and women should be viewed as equal partners in pregnancy and childrearing, rather than be separated on the basis of traditional gender roles.

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