Men Commit to Ensuring Women and Girls Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights in Humanitarian Settings in Ethiopia
By challenging harmful gender norms by promoting positive masculinity, engaging husbands, fathers and other men, we are improving the status of women and improving the quality of life for all. This was one of the key messages presented during the advocacy workshop held in Ethiopia as part of UN Women’s program on adolescent health rights in humanitarian settings in the region. Horn of Africa (POWER), which is supported by the Austrian Development Agency.
POWER aims to make a contribution to every woman, child and adolescent girl, demanding their right to quality health services, especially in humanitarian settings. The training focused on building the capacity of participants to advocate for and improve the use of SRMNCAH (sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health) services among women and girls, to gender-related barriers and address gender inequality at all levels to access SRMNCAH services.
More than half of the participants were men: men from different provinces, representing different organizations – ministries and CSOs, training and family situation. What united them was their keen interest in the subject of gender-based violence and gender equality in humanitarian contexts, their deep knowledge of cultural norms, their experience of working in the area of sexual and reproductive health and their commitment unwavering in challenging social norms to do their best. communities and the country a place where women and girls are safe and exercise their rights.
UN Women sat down for a brief interview with three participants and here is what they had to say.
Regen Mohammed, AYSRHR Officer, EngenderHealth, Ethiopia
There are various socio-cultural barriers such as restrictive norms and stigma of adolescent and youth sexuality, harmful gender norms and discrimination by communities, families, partners and providers. Men have minimal knowledge of SRMNCAH. As a result, men do not help their wives access SRMNCAH services. In general, the culture is not supportive of using some of the SRMNCAH services, especially family planning services. As a result, the community does not have a positive attitude towards family planning, and men and elders do not want their wives to limit the number of children.
For young women, it is also difficult to access services, again due to cultural norms and perception. If a school girl starts going to sexual and reproductive health clinics, people will think “Oh, that girl has already started having sex”, and so they are afraid to go ask, they prefer to deal with these issues by silence.
EngenderHealth understands and values the central role that men and boys play in promoting gender equality and ensuring positive SRH outcomes. We have programs promoting positive masculinity and engaging men and boys in sexual and reproductive health awareness. We also believe that parents need to be educated and we have a Parent-Teacher-Student Advisor, who helps raise awareness on all the issues female students face, especially SRHR issues, and we engage volunteers from the Ethiopian Youth Advisory Council. This person helps a lot with issues that are culturally sensitive.
I started my career as a teacher and saw the challenges young girls face and felt their pain. It made me realize the issues of menstrual hygiene, menstrual health, and the limitations that girls in our country face, and it made sense for me to join EngenderHealth as an SRHR Lead. It’s still sometimes difficult when my male friends make fun of me and my work. But I always challenge them to ask how they help their mothers, sisters, wives and try to educate them about the issues women face in Ethiopia and their role as men.
Personally, I lead by example by doing my equal part in household chores and taking care of my child. My wife is a nurse and she also works. When I get home from work, I take care of our son: changing diapers, feeding him, washing clothes and cleaning the house. I believe it is necessary to support our spouses so that they too can flourish in their careers.
Abebaw Bogale, National Project Coordinator, Pastoralist Concern
Lack of education, lack of resources, child marriage, harmful cultural norms – these are some of the barriers that women and girls face when trying to access services and exercise their rights. During crises, the rights of women and girls require more attention, as other priorities come first, investments are channeled to mitigate crises and the situation of women worsens.
Ethiopia is a large and diverse country. Cultural norms differ from province to province. There is no one pill that will work for everyone.
However, I believe there are few approaches that will be relevant for all provinces to address issues of child marriage, FGM, gender inequality, and access to sexual and reproductive health.
First, we need to reach out to the local communities and work with the elders, the traditional leaders, to address the harmful practices there and address these issues holistically. A regular social worker who may be stationed in that community could help raise awareness about all aspects of women’s lives in the community: from healthy nutrition to education and existing services (medical, legal). Just to give an idea, I once went to a community, where 500 young girls came to donate blood, but because their weight was not enough (they all weighed less than 45 kg), they did not could donate blood. It is the result of women having to marry early, have children as teenage mothers, heavy workloads at home, prioritize nutrition for their husbands, take care of children. These young women were simply exhausted. This experience touched me deeply and made me think that we cannot support the rights of women and girls if we do not address these issues holistically: nutrition, lack of knowledge, the heavy burden of homework and harmful practices that lead to early marriage. and teenage pregnancies and the power imbalance.
It is important that we involve men in a meaningful way. We need to look at interventions that will address the root cause of women’s hindered ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) – gender inequality and changing men’s mindsets in this area is important. Men should be part of the solution by sharing household chores, doing their part in childcare, allowing their wives to educate themselves and take care of themselves.
It can be challenging to develop programs that effectively engage men to advance gender equality, address inequalities and promote access to SRHR services. But by working in communities, and step by step, working together as government agencies, donors, partners, men and boys, we can bring about meaningful change.
Lealem Birhanu, Team Leader, Ministry of Women and Social Affairs, Ethiopia
To improve women’s access to services, we need a multi-sector approach where different ministries and departments address issues holistically because the issues are interlinked. UN Women has been instrumental in bringing us together and creating platforms for us to work together to ensure that every woman and girl in refugee camps and host communities knows their rights and can exercise them freely.
One of the sessions we are discussing today is about engaging men and boys. Evidence shows that working with men and boys in the context of sexual and reproductive health can bring transformative results. Together with UN Women, through this project, we are working to break down structural, socio-cultural and individual barriers, ensuring we have policies in place, working with communities to minimize stigma and harmful gender norms and educating women and communities about SRMNCAH, and dismantling myths and misconceptions around family planning and gender-based violence.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UN Women – Africa.