Mr Charles Murahwa from Chief Chundu area in Hurungwe joined a long winding queue at the nearby antenatal clinic together with his pregnant wife. As he sat on the bench next to his wife, Mr Murahwa could hear snide low toned remarks and giggles from some of the women in the queue. He was beginning to feel out of place. His face lit up when he spotted his neighbour and friend, Mr Walson Nhari joining the queue together with his wife.
“Huyai mugare nepano Nyamuzihwa,” (Come and sit with us),” he jovially beckoned the couple, while creating space for them on the bench.
For long pregnancy and giving birth had been considered to be privileges and functions of women, and were not in any way associated with men. However, that is no longer the case following concerted efforts by Government in tandem with organisations like Women’s Action Group to involve men in maternal health issues.
Progress in male involvement in maternal issues, though slow, is gaining momentum in most districts throughout the country.
Considered to be the “nerve centre” in maternal health issues, men have become active participants – exactly 20 years after the International Conference on Population on Development held in Cairo in 1994 identified them as important agents in reproductive health programmes. Since then, there has been an increase in reproductive health initiatives that target both women and men in an attempt to fulfil Millennium Development Goal 5-to improve maternal health.
Women’s Action Group says working with men in maternal health issues has accelerated the organisation’s efforts towards reduced maternal mortality.
“We have since realised that men are critical partners in maternal issues. We decided to include men in our dialogues where we hold regular discussions on maternal health issues and gender based violence.
“Once we equip them with information, they go back to facilitate discussions at community level and these have turned out to be fruitful.
“We have actually noticed behavioural change, judging by the number of couples who are going for counselling and testing at health centres,” WAG director Ms Edinah Masiyiwa said.
Problems such as early marriages within the communities, high prevalence rate of gender based violence, late ante natal clinic booking due to distances and inadequate funds to support the pregnant women are also discussed during the meetings.
These review meetings that WAG has been holding with traditional and religious leaders in Mbire, Hurungwe, Chipinge and Gokwe North have resulted in a marked improvement in men’s involvement in maternal issues. An estimated number of 746 men were reached in the interventions that WAG has been carrying out since 2014.
“Even the local leadership is confirming that men within their communities are showing interest in their wives, from the time they get pregnant to the time they deliver. “The Jongwe-netseketsa concept has been well embraced,” said Ms Masiyiwa. WAG says there are positive changes being seen. The organisation’s efforts have not been futile.
Several men, especially the young, are showing a lot of passion towards caring for their wives and children. Men are starting to show more support to their spouses especially when pregnant or breastfeeding, by attending to some homes chores like fetching water using motor bikes or bicycles.
Apart from the very old men, they are now discussing family planning with their wives. Some men allow their wives to choose an appropriate family planning method. Also the rate of domestic violence has been greatly reduced among the younger generation. Because of the interventions most husbands are now participating in the antenatal communication indirectly, through spousal communication, being faithful during pregnancy, and providing the material and financial support needed.
Mrs Masiyiwa added that prior to men’s involvement in maternal health programmes, the majority of women were not booking for ante-natal care with some saying their husbands were yet to purchase clothes for the new baby idiomatically known as “preparation”.
With such initiatives by the WAG to involve men in maternal health issues, hopes are already high that the country’s maternal mortality and that of the under-fives will continue to decrease from the current 75 deaths per 1 000, according to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey of 2014. Other new interventions that Government introduced will see a reduction in maternal health related problems that women in Zimbabwe have been facing.
Government has also scrapped maternal user fees in its facilities mainly in rural areas to enable those who cannot afford user fees to deliver under supervision from a skilled birth attendant to reduce the number of women or their new-born babies who die during birth.
As the Women’s Action Group scales up intervention methods on maternal health by involving men, it hopes that the communities it is working with will take the gospel to the apostolic sect, where male involvement remains low. Antenatal care is becoming everyone’s responsibility.
This article was prepared under the project “UN H4+ Support to Reproductive, Maternal, New-born and Child Health” supported by UNAIDS with funding from the Government of Sweden.