In many African societies, sexual and reproductive health issues remain a controversial topic – the same is true in Ghana. The situation is worse among men who are often reluctant to get involved in their partners’ reproductive health issues due to social and cultural norms.
Men are often brought up in a stereotypical way that takes on negative and dangerous interpretations. Many men feel shy, shy and uncomfortable talking about and getting involved in reproductive health issues. Additionally, most communities in Ghana raise men with a mindset of “manliness” rooted in machismo. For many young men, their understanding of male gender roles revolves around a display of macho and some degree of violence and aggression.
A 24-year-old Ghanaian man who prefers anonymity says, “Women need to know themselves and how to take care of themselves. We are confused about our jobs, how to earn money to support the house and make ends meet. He thinks that reproductive health is a women’s issue, that they can fend for themselves. He adds, “In fact, there are many health experts today who can help women while exercising confidentiality.”
There is a need to change this mindset and encourage men to become more involved in reproductive health, which extends to maternal and child health. Women and girls face multiple challenges because men who are the main drivers of reproduction and sexuality avoid responsibility. Many women complain about the lack of emotional and financial support from their male partners during pregnancy, family planning, prenatal and postnatal care. Pregnant women and girls still have to do their domestic work which puts their health at risk.
Sandra Waterwood, a 23-year-old university student at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, says: “As women, we build trust with our partners without shame or prejudice and we get help. However, most men feign ignorance when our reproductive concerns come up. They feel it makes them flexible and see themselves as misfits, leaving the burden to us alone.”
Awareness is needed to encourage men to open up and overcome gender stereotypes. In addition, involving men in women’s health would help reduce common problems such as the spread of sexually transmitted infections and diseases like HIV/AIDS. “Menstrual health and ‘safe periods’ as well as family planning need the involvement of men in order to build support systems for women and girls,” says Sandra.
United Nations agencies continue to encourage States Parties to challenge gender stereotypes. Historically, the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994 drew attention to the need to involve men in maternity care. He called for the inclusion of men as partners and actors in maternal health care. The conference recommendations were adopted by the Ghana Health Service in a strategic plan. It involves men in particular in programs aimed at promoting maternal health at the household and community level. Despite these efforts, much remains to be done.
Bismark Acheampong is a Ghanaian writer.