A father who supports and believes in the benefits of family planning holds his infant at a rural health facility in Momostenango, Totonicapán, Guatemala. © 2007 Haydee Lemus/PASMO PSI Guatemala, Courtesy of Photoshare
Gender equality is fundamental to the achievement of other development goals. Simultaneously, organizations are recognizing that advancing gender equality requires working with men as well as women.
These two trends are reflected in the increased attention to male engagement in reproductive health programs and services, including family planning, as a way to improve outcomes for both men and women, and for their families and communities. As more programs seek to involve men, it is critical to consider the impact on women and to ensure that women’s rights and agency are not limited by the inclusion of men.
Programs that bring men into traditionally female spaces without considering the impact on women can actually do more harm than good. For example, if a program begins to include male partners in family planning counseling, and contraceptive rates subsequently increase, but men are making unilateral decisions about family planning use, then the program may actually have reduced women’s agency.
“Constructive male engagement” is a programmatic approach through which men are engaged as clients, partners, and agents of change to promote gender equality, transform gender norms, and improve health or other outcomes. The word “constructive” is key, because it describes a thoughtful, gender-sensitive approach to male engagement that places gender equality and women’s empowerment on equal footing with other outcomes.