Men from rural communities in Kenya and Uganda often hold deep-rooted cultural beliefs about the number of children they should have – and how they discuss (or don’t discuss) the issue with their wives.
Now CHASE Africa is helping break down these cultural norms, enabling men to join the conversation about family planning via its work on the issue, and its support of sexual and reproductive health education and services, including the provision of family planning.
“Often, men will prevent their wives from using contraception, due to cultural myths and tradition,” explains Henry Pomeroy, Director of CHASE Africa. “Our work offers information and advice to empower men to educate themselves and make different, more modern choices, in a collaborative way with their wives.”
By organising men-specific family planning training, workshops and discussion groups for men with children and those who have yet to start a family, CHASE Africa is educating men about family planning and contraceptive methods, and empowering them to take decisions alongside their partners about the number of children they choose to have and the spacing of pregnancies.
“Without the understanding and support of their husbands, it is difficult for women to take up family planning, even when it is available, so this wider programme of awareness raising and information is crucial,” says Pomeroy.
“There is a lot of misinformation and myth regarding the safety of modern family planning in this community, with many men and women believing that it causes long-term negative side effects,” adds Joel Lekeni, Programme Officer at one of CHASE Africa’s nine partner organisations, Big Life Foundation.“The engrained cultural belief that a large family is a sign of prosperity is also still prevalent in this area, with the average desired family size for women being 6.6 children and for the men, 5.7 children.”
John, 34, a farmer from Ilchalai in rural Kenya, has four children with his wife. Due to frequent droughts and smaller plots of land to farm, John has been experiencing tough times.
After attending a family planning information session run by CHASE Africa and Big Life Foundation, John said he hopes to remain with the children he has already been blessed with, instead of adding more, so he can meet their needs with less hardship. He said he greatly appreciates the information provided, which allows him to understand his family health responsibilities, and explained that he learnt a lot of things, including about different family planning methods and immunisation.
He added that, as a parent, he has realised the responsibility of talking with his children, especially his teenage girl, to counsel them against getting into relationships while in school.
David, 51, from Nenkolong has eight children. He says the awareness raising session run by Big Life Foundation will help him encourage his children to take care of their own families better, since it’s too late for him to reverse his situation, except by giving his children a better education.
“I am not educated, so I solely depend on livestock, which is a nightmare nowadays since droughts kill our cattle. Then we have a hard time providing for our families, including giving them a quality education,” he explained.
“If this education continues, no one will be left behind no matter what, so please let the same fire continue to burn all over this area, and with no doubt everyone will change,” added David.
In Uganda, CHASE Africa partner the Rural Initiative for Community Empowerment – West Nile (RICE-WN), who work in communities in the rural north-west of the country, has also been organising specific events for men, as well as mixed sex groups, to talk about family planning.
To engage larger numbers of men, RICE-WN organised mobile health and family planning clinics at a football match. A local radio show also hosted men and women to debate their experiences and opinions of family planning, with elders encouraged to offer ‘five words of wisdom’ to participants.
John, 35, from Lobodegi has eight children. “I feel like swallowing back my children,” he says. “I can’t afford all the basic needs for them, yet I cannot also leave my wife to stay alone with the children.”
CHASE Africa works with local partner organisations to provide information and advice to the most remote communities, who face many barriers to accessing family planning. They then provide follow-up mobile medical, family planning and door-to-door services. “I will be happy if you come back and provide this service in my village here so that people in my condition could all be helped,” says John.
CHASE Africa’s partners also organise men’s barazas, or men’s meetings, to allow men to talk amongst themselves and voice concerns openly about family planning.
The meetings frequently help to dispel deep-rooted cultural beliefs – for example, that using contraception will make a woman barren – about side effects. They also provide an opportunity to share information on the benefits of smaller, more spaced families on the health of their wives and children, as well as the economic benefits of raising few children. Now, many men are helping educate their peers in the community, to enable them to support their partners on matters of maternal health.
“I heard about family planning just recently in a men’s baraza,” says Steven Kasiane, who has had 13 children – five of whom died.
“The facilitator kept on saying that a planned family is a happy family, that they are content with the few resources they have – and they do not go around begging for food. That statement was a wakeup call. How I wished I heard it much earlier! After the meeting, I advised my wife to see a nurse. She is now is on long-term family planning.”