Engaging Men and Boys Is Critical to Gender Equality and Family Planning

By Meghana Bommareddy, FP2030 Intern

Much of the literature on family planning and reproductive health is women-centered. This makes sense — family planning is incredible for women. It protects their physical health by allowing them to space their children and reduce high-risk pregnancies, enables and empowers them to pursue economic and educational opportunities, and helps improve their mental health by allowing them to choose when to have children, if at all. If someone wanted to make a development investment that would create the largest impact, family planning programs are shown to be an excellent option.

But investments in family planning also have a positive impact on men. While just two modern contraception methods are available to them (condoms and vasectomies), men still benefit from family planning. Condoms are easy to use and reduce the risk of HIV, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). This is especially vital in regions like sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest annual rate of STI incidence, according to the World Health Organization. Also, when used correctly, male condoms are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy.

Additionally, other benefits of family planning affect men and women equally. Together, couples can choose how many children to have, which can increase satisfaction between couples, and shares decision making power in relationships. On a broader scale, communities – including people of all genders – are more resilient in the face of global climate change when they can access rights-based family planning, and a health supply system that fully realizes people’s reproductive health and rights. Finally, allowing people to choose the size of their families is proven to lead to increased political stability and contributes to economic growth and poverty reduction in countries and communities. When people choose their family size, it often means they’re better able to provide for the children they choose to have.

As a result, it is essential to incorporate men in family planning programs and support them. A study published in the BMC Health Services Research journal in 2017 stated that “a review of programming shows that men and boys are not particularly well served by programs.” However, there is plenty of evidence suggesting that most men, just like women, want to receive information about how family planning can empower them. When men in 12 countries in Africa and Asia were asked if they agreed with the statement that contraception is a women’s responsibility, over half of them disagreed.

The study was based on interventions in 27 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America, proving that family planning is truly a global issue. It concluded with a number of recommendations, such as creating more contraceptive options for men, addressing gender norms that affect men’s use of contraception, and connecting men’s contraceptive use with their desire to support their families. This can affect different areas of international development; for example, men and boys are more likely to report increased contraceptive use when they have been exposed to gender equality programming. To achieve gender equality, men need to share equal responsibility for what is too often women-centered — and family planning programs and providers have a key role to play in promoting this shift.