A long way to go: engagement of men and boys in country family planning commitments and implementation plans

Background: Evidence shows that, to reach global goals related to women and girls’ access to modern family planning (FP) and gender equality, it is critical to understand and account for the role of men and boys as users of reproductive health services, as partners for millions of women & girls around the world, and as advocates in their communities. Under the Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) partnership, countries were encouraged to develop costed implementation plans and action plans in an effort to provide 120 million additional women and girls with contraception. As FP2020 becomes FP2030, reviewing these previously-developed strategies helps understand the extent to which countries considered the engagement of men as an important aspect of their family planning portfolios.

Methods: We conducted textual analysis on commitments and implementation plans related to achieving FP2020 commitments in seven countries in Africa and one in Asia to determine the extent to which male engagement was incorporated into country or subnational family planning goals, with particular focus on FP policy, program, and financial commitments.

Results: Some of the documents analyzed included robust plans for including male engagement in their efforts to expand access to FP.  The strongest aspects of male engagement programming were those that sought to engage men as advocates for women’s access to and use of FP services, and improve men’s knowledge and attitudes related to contraception and reproduction. The weakest aspects were engaging men as users of services and, vitally, tackling underlying gender norms which hamper men’s and women’s health-seeking behaviors and attitudes.

Conclusions: Developing FP programs that target men and boys as people deserving of reproductive health services, as partners with women in building their families, and as social activists in their communities, will complement and strengthen existing FP programs as well as promote broader goals related to gender equality.