Engaging Men and Boys in Family Planning

Why does engaging men and boys matter?

Though traditional family planning programs focus primarily on women, men are often the primary decision makers about family size, health services, and family planning methods. Many women cannot make family planning decisions or access services and products without their male partners’ permission, agreement, or financial support. Programs that optimize the constructive engagement of men can improve health outcomes for women, men, and families.

Key messages

  • Unequal relationships between women and men can lead to poor reproductive health.
  • Evidence shows that men’s engagement in family planning and reproductive health can improve health outcomes.
  • The most effective men’s engagement programs promote equality between women and men: It is not enough for men to simply go with their partners to the clinic.

Definitions

Male Engagement: The involvement of men and boys in reproductive health programs as a) clients and beneficiaries, b) partners, and c) a agents of change, in order to actively promote gender equality and transform inequitable definitions of masculinity. (IGWG 2013)

Gender: Gender embodies a culturally-defined set of economic, social, and political roles, responsibilities, rights, entitlements, obligations, and power dynamics associated with being female and male. Ideas and expectations about gender vary across cultures and over time. (OHA/PEPFAR, modified from IGWG)

Sex: Sex refers to the classification of people as male or female. At birth, infants are assigned a sex based on a combination of bodily characteristics including chromosomes, hormones, internal reproductive organs, and genitalia. (USAID March 2012 Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy)

Overview

Masculinity norms make some men unsure about family planning. Men might fear that using contraception will allow their partner to be promiscuous, they might feel pressure to produce many children as a sign of their virility, or they might worry that male methods like vasectomy will affect negatively their sexual performance.

Men may take a range of roles in family planning:

  • Forbidding women to seek health care or use contraception, or coercively making decisions for their partners
  • Being completely uninvolved or ignorant of women’s reproductive health needs and family planning options
  • Supporting their partners by helping them access information, services, and products--or by using male contraceptive methods themselves
  • Acting as advocates or agents of change in their communities for improved reproductive health and gender equality

Men’s engagement programs are most effective when they challenge gender inequality. Evidence shows that bringing men into family planning clinics with their partners is not enough to change the dynamics between women and men that pose barriers to reproductive health. Men’s engagement programs should focus on open communication between partners and shared decision making about family size and method choice, all while maintaining women’s agency over their own bodies.

An ongoing challenge for men’s engagement programs is to invest in bringing evidence-based, effective men’s engagement programming to scale. The most successful men’s engagement interventions are time-intensive and require significant investments to implement on a large scale.

Topic last updated: March 09, 2017