April 14, 2016

Engaging men: The journey towards gender transformation

Written by Plan International

This post originally appeared on Plan International. Reposted with permission.

Musa is a husband and father of six children. At 47, Plan International helped him discover that it is important for men to accompany their pregnant wives to the health clinic for antenatal care.

Born and raised in Cameroon as a traditional Fulani man, Musa was brought up to think that maternal care is strictly for women.

“In our culture, it is not common to see a man having a conversation with his wife or even exchanging ideas,” he said. “This makes it very difficult to accompany her to the hospital when she is pregnant.”

In Fulani culture, it is considered a taboo for a man to walk alongside his wife, especially when she is pregnant. So, escorting her to the health clinic or helping with the household chores such as cooking, cleaning, or fetching water is seen as shameful, even when she is sick.

Although this is a longstanding tradition, Musa was not given any explanation as to why it is this way.

“I was never told why I should not accompany my wife to the clinic”, he said. “My father only told me that as a man, that’s the way it is supposed to be.”

As the president of the Trinity Men Engagement Group inspired by Plan’s Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) project, Musa has noticed that many men are now beginning to question and challenge gender norms and stereotypes.

“Things have really changed,” he said. “Antenatal care has increased and we are educating more people living in the forest.”

Despite the positive change, Musa still faces disapproval from his friends who think that a man participating in household chores is weak.

“I’m humiliated sometimes because tradition does not permit me to do certain things like cooking,” he said. “I try to explain to my friends. Some of them understand, but others just laugh at me.”

Many men in Musa’s culture have been raised to observe strict gender roles even to the detriment of their families. In the months ahead, the PMTCT project aims to create more men’s groups, train facilitators, and organize mass sensitization campaigns.

“The members of the Trinity Men’s Club challenge the traditional beliefs about masculinity through their daily actions,” said Marcia Alvarez, Plan Cameroon’s health consultant to the project. “Their family and friends have been their staunchest critics, yet they haven’t given up on their mission to transform themselves and serve as examples in their community. I admire and am inspired by their persistent commitment to promoting antenatal care and changing gender norms.”

Despite the many challenges, Musa and his fellow members of the men’s club are determined to continue raising awareness on gender issues, encourage men’s participation in antenatal care, and reducing parent-to-child HIV transmission.