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From Patriarchy to Partners

Prerna Gopal
Sr. Program Officer, The Antara Foundation
Published on June 21, 2024 |

A few years ago, I met a worried husband. To the outside world, Shyam* was a provider, a village headman, and perhaps the embodiment of all things masculine. But to me, on the warm, summer day he was a helpless man seeking answers. His wife, Geeta*, had been recently diagnosed with severe anemia while she was carrying their twin babies. They had been running around from hospital to hospital trying to figure out what “anemia” means and what they could do to protect their unborn children. Wherever they would go to get answers, Geeta would be rushed into a different room while Shyam would wait outside hoping that someone would explain to him what was going on. They were met with the words “Agli baar apni saas ko lana. Bring your mother in-law next time” and each time, Shyam would feel a little more helpless. During our conversation, Shyam couldn’t hold his anxiety in and regurgitated all his worries hoping that maybe I could help him out. As I slowly explained to him what was going on, I could see his eyes well up. He quietly muttered “I am the father. Why didn’t they just explain this to me? Do you know how worried I have been?” That day, I realized the inherent bias that exists in the system. Maternal and child health (MCH) is so often considered a women’s agenda that we forget about those who make women mothers and children equally alive.
There is evidence from all over the world that explains the importance of involving fathers and husbands as allies in MCH solutions [Note 1, 2]. For instance, our deeply patriarchal society hands most of the power to them. They often influence access to healthcare for their families and thus, are often thought of as perpetrators. That is not to say that in many cases this might be true, however, our inherent bias often clouds our judgement. I have first-hand met men like Shyam who want to help, who can help, and who are lost in the myriad of social pressure, standing isolated from their family unable to bridge the chasm of misunderstanding.
But how should we bridge this gap? The first step is recognizing and acknowledging these men and viewing them as a part of a couple. Next, we invest in their knowledge. They can act as powerful allies in our quest for an equal world. In parallel, we need to build systems and structures where couples feel safe and can work together with their service providers. Lastly, we must provide opportunities to the couple to exercise their joint decision-making. There are programs from around the world where couple-based interventions have shown remarkable improvement in MCH outcomes [Note 3, 4]. I strongly believe that there are many allies in our communities who want to contribute and participate in our noble quest to protect women and children. But just like Shyam they are lost. Empowering them to make the right decisions for themselves and their loved ones. If can achieve this, we would be building our society as a truly egalitarian system.

* Names are changed for anonymity
Note 1: Tokhi, Mariam, et al. “Involving men to improve maternal and newborn health: a systematic review of the effectiveness of interventions.” PloS one 13.1 (2018): e0191620.
Note 2: Comrie-Thomson, Liz, et al. “Challenging gender inequity through male involvement in maternal and newborn health: critical assessment of an emerging evidence base.” Culture, health & sexuality 17.sup2 (2015): 177-189.
Note 3: Doyle, Kate, et al. “Gender-transformative Bandebereho couples’ intervention to promote male engagement in reproductive and maternal health and violence prevention in Rwanda: Findings from a randomized controlled trial.” PloS one 13.4 (2018): e0192756.
Note 4: Shefner-Rogers, Corinne L., and Suruchi Sood. “Involving husbands in safe motherhood: effects of the SUAMI SIAGA campaign in Indonesia.” Journal of health communication 9.3 (2004): 233-258.
Disclaimer: The article has been written in personal capacity, and the views and opinions expressed are those of the author

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