Category

Women & SDG

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Miracle Nwankwo

Women around the world are linked by a similar pursuit which is their aspiration for the comfort and welfare of their children and families. They all hope for a world and a future where their children can have improved lives than they have had without war, disease, poor education, injustice, and the destruction of the environment.

To this end, about 99% of women all over the world are working tirelessly for the future they have hoped for. In different spheres of life and at all levels, at the center of every woman’s labor is a purpose driven agenda to make the world a better place. This is why they are the world’s best bet in solving global challenges including climate change.

We have seen situations and ordeals change for the better when a woman comes into the equation, this might still be the only solution to the problems in the world as many have predicted. The earlier the world begins to realize this, the better for all of us.

Climate Change according to the UN is the defining issue of the present and we are at a defining moment. Although the impacts of climate change are felt by everyone but at the time not equally. The fact has been that the vulnerable people of the society are the most affected, both in developed or developing countries. However, women bear the greater brunt from the impacts of climate change in situations of poverty and due to existing roles, responsibilities and cultural values.

In a world where global warming and environmental degradation continues to threaten the pursuit of the sustainable development goals, women have maintained dedicated effort towards influencing health, food security, nutrition, production, and people’s income. This is a pointer that they are not only well suited to find solutions to prevent further degradation and adapt to the changing climate, they also have a vested interest in doing so due to their customary roles in agricultural production, and as the procurers of water, cooking fuel, and other household resources. For this reason, many including experts have come to the conclusion that in tackling the challenges of climate change empowering women to safeguard the environment is the very first step to consider.

Investing in women brings back multiple benefits, because it extends to their families, communities and the countries where they reside.  Extensive studies have proven this in many ways. A particular study on women in leadership found that countries with higher female parliamentary representation are easily given to legislative frameworks and resolutions that build environmental development. To further buttress this, some data have suggested that when women have rights to land and many other amenities, they utilize resources sustainably. Therefore, involving women in climate change solutions is a guarantee to adequate safe drinking water, food, clean air, and shelter for the present and future generation. 

Women have priceless and helpful knowledge of societal values, if harnessed will bring about lasting solutions to climate change. This fact has been revealed by various studies and researches on women who have also advised the involvement of women as decision makers when plans on resilience and disaster are undertaking, because they adapt easily to the effects. Their contributions as policy makers, educators, stakeholders, caregivers will go a long way in averting the problem of climate change.

In the light of this, it is important to note that opportunities for enlightenment and sensitization should be focused on women. More gender-friendly (sponsored) training and workshops should be facilitated so that women can acquire the requisite knowledge and gain skills necessary to combat climate change. With their inherent ability to instill knowledge it can be guaranteed that the knowledge will be extensively used. On the other hand, tackling climate change with a gender lens, automatically address women’s rights, tackling rather than exacerbating existing gender inequalities.

Extent and Effects of Maternal Employment

During the past few decades the proportion of women in labor force has increased dramatically in all industrialized societies. In the United States, the married mothers’ employment rate increased from 39.7 percent in 1970 to 70.1 percent in 1999 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2000). Among mothers of children aged six to seventeen, 49.2 percent and 77.1 percent were employed in 1970 and 1999, respectively. Among mothers with children under the age of six, their employment rate doubled from 1970 (30.3%) to 1999 (61.8%). The increasing trend of maternal employment is seen in other industrialized countries such as Japan and Canada.

The above figures indicate that the majority of mothers in the United States experience dual roles of being a parent and a paid worker. A number of studies also show that women still bear more responsibility for childcare than their male counterparts (e.g., Hochschild 1989). Working mothers, therefore, are engaged in a second shift of caring for their children and families upon returning from their first shift of paid work (Hochschild 1989). Since mothers are more likely to prepare their children for day care and school in the morning hours than fathers, working mothers, in reality, are engaged in three shifts combining family carework and paid work. 

An increase of labor-force participation among mothers also suggests that being a mother—even of an infant—is no longer a major deterrent to women’s employment (Moen 1992). According to Moen, the three types of mothers most likely to return to work before their infants are a year old are the young mother (a married mother under age twenty-four with a high school education), the delayed childbearer (a mother with at least some college education who postponed starting her family until after age twenty-four), and the unmarried mother (a white high school graduate who already has two or more children and has been divorced or separated). It should be noted, however, that although the American public has shown more acceptance of the employment of married women, the employment of mothers with young children has not enjoyed the same level of endorsement (Moen 1992). This is largely due to beliefs that maternal employment has harmful effects on young children.

A number of studies in the early 1990s explored the effects of maternal employment on child outcomes but yielded inconsistent results. Whereas some studies reported that maternal employment was a negative influence on children’s cognitive and social development, others found enhanced cognitive outcomes for children as a function of early maternal employment (Vandell and Ramanan 1992). Studies in late 1990s report that neither early maternal employment status nor the timing and continuity of maternal employment were consistently related to a child’s developmental outcome (Harvey 1999). A few significant findings reported that mothers’ working more hours in the first three years was associated with slightly lower vocabulary scores up through age nine (Harvey 1999). Among low-income adolescent mothers, maternal employment was also associated with their children’s lower verbal development (Luster et al. 2000). However, maternal employment during the first year of the child’s life is slightly more beneficial for the children of single mothers, and early parental employment was related to more positive child outcomes for low-income families (Harvey 1999).

Although these results suggest that maternal employment status has few negative effects on young children, other research in the 1990s reported some of the conditions under which maternal work makes a difference in family relations. For example, when mothers frequently engaged in shared activities with children such as reading books and telling stories, the potentially disruptive effects of changes in maternal employment status on children’s social and cognitive competence were mitigated. Additionally, less secure attachment relationships between mothers and children were more common when the quality of alternative childcare was poor and unstable (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network 1997).

The mothers’ struggle of balancing work and family has also been reported in developing regions (such as Latin America), post-socialist regions (such as Russia), and industrialized countries (such as Great Britain and Japan). Helen Safa (1992), for example, reports that despite increased employment of married women in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, housework and childcare are still perceived as women’s responsibility, even when they are making major contributions to the household economy. Similarly, for many women in Great Britain, the absence of choices concerning childcare poses a major problem in pursuing outside employment (MacLennan 1992). Compared to these countries, mothers in Nordic countries have a less stressful experience in balancing motherhood and paid work due to the comprehensive maternity-parental leave system in which parents of children under the age of one are financially supported for childcare by governmental policies (Haavio-Mannila and Kauppinen 1992). It should be noted, however, this does not mean that gender-based discrimination in the larger social context does not exist in Nordic countries as evidenced by gender segregation in the workplace.

Source: family.jrank.org

By the American Association of University Women (AAUW)

In an era when women are increasingly prominent in medicine, law, and business, why are there so few women scientists and engineers? A 2010 research report by AAUW presents compelling evidence that can help to explain this puzzle. Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) presents in-depth yet accessible profiles of eight key research findings that point to environmental and social barriers — including stereotypes, gender bias, and the climate of science and engineering departments in colleges and universities — that continue to block women’s progress in STEM. The report also includes statistics on girls’ and women’s achievement and participation in these areas and offers new ideas for what each of us can do to more fully open scientific and engineering fields to girls and women.

Stereotype Threat and Implicit Bias:
Barriers to Women in STEM

Stereotype threat arises in situations where a negative stereotype is relevant to evaluating performance. A female student taking a math test experiences an extra cognitive and emotional burden of worry related to the stereotype that women are not good at math. A reference to this stereotype, even one as subtle as taking the test in a room of mostly men, can adversely affect her test performance. When the burden is removed, however, her performance will improve. Stereotype threat is one compelling explanation for why women remain underrepresented in STEM fields.

Many people claim they do not believe the stereotype that girls and women are not as good as boys and men in math and science. However, even individuals who consciously refute gender and science stereotypes can still hold that belief at an unconscious level. These unconscious beliefs, or implicit biases, may be more powerful than explicitly held beliefs and values simply because we are not aware of them. Even if overt gender bias is waning, as some argue, research shows that unconscious beliefs underlying negative stereotypes continue to influence assumptions about people and behavior.

Project Implicit offers Implicit Association Tests (IAT) that measures the association between two concepts to determine attitudes about different social groups. For example, the gender-science IAT measures the association between math-arts and male-female. Between 1998 and the release of Why So Few in 2010, more than a half million people from around the world took the gender-science IAT, and more than 70 percent of test takers more readily associated “male” with science and “female” with arts than the reverse. These findings indicate a strong implicit association of male with science and female with arts and a high level of gender stereotyping at the unconscious level among both women and men of all races and ethnicities. The findings also challenge the notion that bias against women in math and science is a thing of the past. Women in STEM fields still face significant implicit bias on the basis of their gender.

In Math and Science, a Mind-set of Growth Benefits Girls

Individuals with a “fixed mindset” believe that intelligence is static. In contrast, individuals with a “growth mindset” believe that intelligence can be developed. Because of this they want to learn more and, therefore, tend to embrace challenges, persist when they encounter obstacles, see effort as a path to mastery, learn from criticism, and be inspired by the success of others.

Individuals with a fixed mindset are susceptible to a loss of confidence when they encounter challenges, because they believe that if they are truly “smart,” things will come easily to them. Individuals with a growth mindset, on the other hand, show a far greater belief in the power of effort, and in the face of difficulty, their confidence actually grows because they believe they are learning and getting smarter as a result of challenging themselves.

These research findings are important for women in STEM because encountering obstacles and challenging problems is in the nature of scientific work. When girls and women believe they have a fixed amount of intelligence, they are more likely to lose confidence and disengage from science and engineering when they inevitably encounter difficulties in their course work.

This is true for all students, but it is particularly relevant for girls in math and science, where negative stereotypes persist about their abilities. Therefore, in math and science, a growth mindset benefits girls.

Recruitment and Retention of Women in STEM Majors

Researchers Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher suggest that many factors can combine to increase women’s recruitment and retention in STEM. They stress that departments should pay attention to the student experience as well as faculty diversity to improve recruitment and retention of women.

Recommendations

Get Girls Interested in Science and Engineering

  • Spread the word about girls’ and women’s achievements in math and science.
  • Teach girls that intellectual skills, including spatial skills, are acquired.
  • Teach students about stereotype threat and promote a growth-mindset environment.
  • Talented and gifted programs should send the message that they value growth and learning.
  • Encourage children to develop their spatial skills.
  • Help girls recognize their career-relevant skills.
  • Encourage high school girls to take calculus, physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering classes when available.
  • Make performance standards and expectations clear.

Create College Environments That Support Women in Science and Engineering


For Students

  • Actively recruit women into STEM majors.
  • Send an inclusive message about who makes a good science or engineering student.
  • Emphasize real-life applications in early STEM courses.
  • Teach professors about stereotype threat and the benefits of a growth mindset.
  • Make performance standards and expectations clear in STEM courses.

Take proactive steps to support women STEM majors.
For example, sponsor social events to help integrate women into the department, provide a student lounge open to all students to encourage interaction outside of class, or sponsor a “Women in (STEM major)” group.

Girls and women have a right to be heard.  To engage in civil society, vote in elections, be elected to government office, serve on boards, and take part in any process that affects them, their families, and their communities.

Yet in spite of the rising numbers of women being elected to national parliaments, they have a long way to go to achieve gender equality in the political sphere.  In 2015, women made up less than 10% of parliamentarians in 38 countries. Within the public sector, they hold less than 30% of senior management positions. And they are virtually silenced in peace processes; between 1992 and 2011, women accounted for less than 4% of signatories to peace agreements, and fewer than 10% of peace talk negotiators.

Due to discriminatory laws, institutional and cultural barriers, as well as disproportionate access to quality education, healthcare, and resources, women worldwide continue to be marginalized in the political arena.  To break down the barriers that prevent them from claiming their rightful place, women need support in the form of concrete interventions, such as:

  • Introducing gender quotas as transitional mechanisms
  • Promoting women’s participation in peacebuilding processes
  • Creating training and leadership pathways that are gender sensitive
  • Fostering inclusivity in leadership, civic engagement and decision-making
  • Ensuring political environments are free from discrimination and violence

Investing in women’s right to political participation is a necessary step to achieving global gender equality and democratic governance. And since women in positions of authority tend to advocate for and allocate budgets towards social issues, their involvement in political processes is beneficial for all. For example, increasing women’s participation in politics has been documented to lead to greater investments in education. And gender balance in the political sphere promotes gender balance in the labor market. This represents tremendous economic potential, as evidence shows that gender equality in the workforce would lead to a doubling in global GDP growth by 2025.

The examples below show how concrete action can amplify the voice of women – in government, in peace talks, and as civically engaged citizens – within a relatively short period of time:

Doubling the Proportion of Women Parliamentarians in Senegal: In 2010, Senegal adopted legislation calling for women to be guaranteed seats in all elective bodies at every level of government. In preparation for the 2012 elections, the government, along with civil society and UN Women, launched an awareness campaign and a training program on the electoral process to educate and encourage female candidates. The outcome of the 2012 elections resulted in a near balance between men and women in the National Assembly – a tangible shift toward gender parity and democracy.

 The Peace Table Project:  Indonesia has made great efforts to attain gender balance in peace negotiations through a participatory process. Through convening actors from government and civil society, the project has yielded positive dialogue around ways to develop sounder and more gender-inclusive policies for peacebuilding. From these meetings, a report, Women at the Indonesian Peace Table: Enhancing the Contributions of Women to Conflict Resolution, was released, outlining the positive effects of women in leadership roles.

Train, Run, Win, and Lead: An umbrella network of women’s organizations in Trinidad & Tobago launched a training program in 2013 to educate women on the fundamental elements of politics in their country. Train, Run, Win and Lead not only educates women about who is responsible for what in government, but the program also works to empower them to fully participate in positions of leadership and ultimately effect change. Following the first round of trainings, women won half of the seats in local elections – all of which had previously been held by men.

The world can be a peaceful and better place when all forms of gender inequality are totally abolished through women empowerment. Empowering women in all spheres of life like their men folks will create an atmosphere for better development in our societies.

For instance, increasing women and girls’ education, will contribute to the higher economic growth and personal development. Research in some part of Africa has shown that, on average, women with secondary education have three fewer children than those with no education at all. Owing to these merits, as well as the imperativeness of ensuring that the rights of women are upheld, the UN has made women empowerment a pertinent part of sustainable development goals.

In order to enhance women empowerment in Africa, there are few practical ways that will aid the restoration of dignity and create educational and economic opportunities for women.

Abolition of Early/Child Marriages

World Bank statistics have stated that approximately 15 million girls worldwide are married off before the age of 18. Early marriage causes not only negative personal development but economic issues in the lives of women as well.

The effect is human rights violations- young girls are disempowered and often abused. Because many drops out of school and are unable to find employment, lack of education and poverty are other effects. Statistics have shown incidents of complications in pregnancy and childbirth, as well as high risks to contracting HIV/AIDS. Child marriage hinders both the personal development and economic empowerment of women, which is why abolishing this practice is, included as part of the sustainable development goals to uphold the human rights of women and girls.

The quest to eradicate child marriages in Africa has gathered momentum, as seen by the work done by Malawian chief Theresa Kachindamoto. The data disclosed by UNICEF states that this Chief in 2016 had annulled over 800 child marriages over a 3-year period in one of the Malawian district near Lake Malawi. The aim was to ensure that children go back to school to get educated, as well as minimize abuse and health risks associated with early child marriage. By doing so, children are ensured to have a better chance of living a healthy life. In order to achieve desired goals, enforceable laws were made, much to the apprehension of traditionalists, and to lobby with the Malawian government to change the marriageable age from 18 to 21.

Different measures were applied to ensure the cultural and economic empowerment of children, especially girls, includes paying their school fees or finding sponsors for them and ensuring that children stay in school through a network of appointed mentors.

Protection of Women Rights

In Africa, there are so many cultures, customs, and traditions that infringe on rights of women and children by subjecting them to abuse, as well as political and economic exclusion. Abolishing those customs in order to give girls a better future has been the work of Malawian gender rights activist Memory Banda, who has been working with the Girls Empowerment Network to stop the prevalence of child marriage and some prejudicing customs. This custom is considered to be sexual initiation by older men on girls to initiate the girls into adulthood. Forceful marriages pose a lot of risks for girls, including contracting HIV/AIDS, falling pregnant and being forced to drop out of school, and developing health complications associated with early pregnancy.

This philanthropist’s work on women empowerment and the Girls Empowerment Network led to an alliance with community leaders in a district in southern Malawi to develop bylaws that penalize men who engage in the practice of child marriage. The advocacy also led traditional authorities to increase the legal marriage age from 18 to 21.

Enlightenment of women via Social Media

The media (social) has evolved from merely being a space for friends to share their lives with each other, to be a space for enlightenment and inclusion. So far, the world has shown slow attitude to change in the views on equal rights for women, social media communities can provide much-needed support as women band together to talk about their issues and institute change in their lives at the grassroots level.

 ‘Female in Nigeria’ Facebook group is an example of such an educative platform. “It’s a safe place for a woman who has something to say” according to its founder Lola Omotola. She started the group after the kidnapping of more than 200 girls from Chibok in northeastern Nigeria in 2015. “When you grow up in a place where a woman’s voice is not even valid, everything reinforces the idea that we’re not good enough,” she claimed as the reason of motivation for starting the group.

The group is adjudged a safe haven for women to share their life experiences and seek advice from each other where they feel necessary. Concerns such as marriage, gender discrimination, and domestic abuse are just some of the experiences shared by women in the group.

Nigerian women find themselves in a society that is slow to change its view on women’s rights and gender discrimination, FIN provides a platform and a voice to women who have been silenced by cultural customs and societal expectations.

Empowerment via Small Businesses

Empowering women through small businesses is a positive strategy which will also benefit all the members of the society by providing jobs and opportunities for franchises. Bee farming in Africa has been one of many prime examples of how small businesses can empower women.

The practice of bee farming in Ethiopia is largely traditional; however, modernizing the sector has had a positive influence in attracting women to the area. Women have also been encouraged to join the sector through assistance in accessing funding and land for their business ventures. Their main source of income has come from selling products, like honey, locally at markets, which accounts for approximately 90% of all sales.

In Kenya, Bee farming has attracted approximately 50% of women. This can be attributed to a high demand for Bee products from the East African nation and affordable access into the sector- farmers don’t need large capital or land to enter into bee farming.

Another good sector is the poultry farming which helps in providing opportunities for empowerment through job creation for women. One of the prime businesses making strides in poultry farming is AKM Glitter Company, formed by businesswoman and head of African Women in Agribusiness chapter in Tanzania, a Graça Machel Trust initiative, Elizabeth Swai.

Elizabeth Swai’s Company specializes in poultry farming and has a number of hatcheries that provide day-old chicks and fresh eggs to market. Through her business, she has created a network of more than 100 farmer groups. In these groups, she provides training and support so that farmers are equipped to start rearing their own chickens. In return, she buys eggs from these farmers and sells them at markets. Many businesses have grown as a result of this collaboration, empowering business owners to sell their own produce.

She stated that her work was her passion and also a huge part of her life. “I wanted to develop a model that could have a positive effect on Africa and to empower our young women and youths in general”.

Living an indelible mark on the lives of rural communities has been one of her biggest motivators. “Their household health and their education are improved through our work, and some of the profits are being used to help develop rural areas so children have clean water, classrooms, toilets, and access to basic facilities.”

Women Empowerment via Technology and Energy

Sequel to fourteen countries across the continent with affordable solar power being funded by African-American singer Akon and Morocco leading the way in solar power with the Ouarzazate Solar Power Station, innovations in technology and energy are gaining momentum across Africa.

 Eunice Ntobedzi, a businesswoman and an innovator in the energy sector has also employed women electrical engineers to support the development of projects in Botswana. She supported the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) movement in the country.

Owing to her company’s prowess, communities that are often unreachable now have reliable and affordable access to power, while increasing the sharing of renewable energy in the Southern African Development Community. With many women having direct access to energy, Eunice believes that there will be significant health improvements. Additionally, by focusing on educating women in the STEM field, which is sought after both on the continent and across the world, women will have better access to educational and economic opportunities. Access to these opportunities will help women lift themselves sustainably out of poverty and in turn help in promoting economic development in their societies and continent at large.

The empowerment and acceptance of women in all spheres of the society are therefore very sacrosanct. This will not only enlighten the women but will go a long way in sustainable development in African societies.

Source: UN Report

 

Globalisation in the context of women’s economic empowerment reminds me of the modern colloquial term “frenemy” where you are not so sure if someone close to you has good or bad intentions. You cannot completely avoid them and you may actually need them but at the same time, you also know you need to be careful in your interactions due to some bad experiences.  Globalisation has positively shaped women’s work yet it has also arrived with its own patterns that are venomous to the women’s movement itself.

 What is globalization? Friedman (2005) defines globalization as the inexorable integration of markets, transportation systems, and communication systems to a degree never witnessed before – in a way that is enabling corporations, countries, and individuals to reach around the world farther, faster, deeper, and cheaper than ever before, and in a way that is enabling the world to reach into corporations, countries, and individuals farther, faster, deeper, and cheaper than ever before.

To begin with, globalization has meant the proliferation of different technologies all over the world ad this has had a positive effect on working women’s economic participation. The presence of women in the male-dominated sector of technology has increasingly been felt with some of these women becoming successful tech entrepreneurs. Functions such as networking, advocacy, dissemination and exchange of information, and creative e-commerce have also helped women to market their products globally. 

The capitalist nature of globalization has resulted in the removal of economic barriers in the form of the inflow of capital, firms and industrial growth that creates more employment opportunities for women thus enabling them to earn some income. Distance-related work also means more flexibility in location and hours of employment and thus removing some of the constraints facing women.

Globalization has played a huge role in the shifting of perceptions about the working woman from negative to positive. Evidence has also shown that the capitalist drive of globalization has resulted in a greater appreciation of women’s rights. The result has been an increase in the economic participation of women.

Women now, thanks to globalization, have gained better control of their lives and have more power over the choices in their personal lives. Most importantly women now pose greater negotiation power in terms of their reproductive rights. They can choose when to have children and plan their careers more effectively.

However, globalization like all major changes comes with its own pitfalls and does not address all present societal problems.  Many women despite globalization have continued to be excluded from the industrial growth process; with some constituting a large proportion of the non-industrial labour force and this phenomenon is more acute in the developing world.

According to Schwab (2017), the fourth industrial revolution comes with grave concerns as it may create new inequalities and this is true for n women as they may be disadvantaged has also made working conditions for all workers, but especially women, more stressful and demanding. Women have consequently been finding themselves having to upgrade their skills in order to be able to work with new technologies or risk joining the race to the bottom.

Another negative trend that is likely to affect women’s future work is that due to globalization women are becoming more independent due to the resulting changes in family life. According to Kynastone (1996) there now exists a double burden where women now have the struggle to meet demanding chores at home, cooking, cleaning and, crucially, caring for children and at the same time be working in the informal and formal sector to provide for their families. According to Kynastone (1996) Coping with a new baby and caring for children as they grow are never easy demands for anyone living in poverty.

Although migration comes with greater career opportunities for women, sadly migrant from the continent are increasingly victim to trafficking, especially for the purpose of modern slavery and exploitation. Due to the lack of effective international mechanisms that regulate and protect the rights of labour moving across national borders both legal and illegal migrants can fall victim to human rights abuses. The social consequences are also dire as these and women are more than often forced to be separated from their families and children as they are employed abroad.

Globalisation is indeed a double-edged sword for women at work in both the formal and informal sectors hence there is need to continue discussions on the global gender agenda to ensure better working conditions for women.

By Karen Whitney Maturure

 

 

There has been a lot of attention on women’s maternal health, not least because of the MDG targets, and this has continued with the SDGs. But how much of this work should be focused on bringing men into the world of maternal health?  At one level, men are often the ones who control women’s access to health seeking and health care. At another level, women’s maternal health remains a domain, which is intimately based on their bodily integrity and laden with social significance, such that some argue that women should exert exclusive power.

In Bangladesh, some mHealth activities have sought to recognize the roles of men as gatekeepers to women’s health. Instead of only sending SMS messages to pregnant women, they also send them to husbands or other significant men who have been identified by the women. This seems to play two roles: it encourages men to take women’s maternal health seriously and makes it harder for these men to block women from using maternal health services. But does it also play a role engaging men in maternal health?  Does it also give men maternal health information which they find interesting and useful?  Is it helpful at all, or potentially harmful (i.e. does it increase their power over women)?

This leads us to ask: is there an inherent tension in involving men in maternal health – are we, in fact, increasing male authority in a domain that was at least partly in women’s control? Brazilian feminists have argued for a long time against the ‘maternal infantilization’ of women, i.e. that women should still have primary authority about what happens to their health and bodies, including when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. When we seek to engage men in maternal health, we need to ask whether it is done in a way that would be considered unethical or would, in fact, inhibit women’s autonomy (e.g. encouraging forms of community surveillance that take away women’s right to privacy).

Questions that need to be asked include: when is it acceptable to share health records of one person with another and what are the gender dimensions involved? Under what conditions should men be encouraged to actively participate in women’s maternal health?  Are there ways to involve men, to promote gender equality and sustain women’s autonomy? What kind of services and support mechanisms do we need to navigate this?

This is not to say that engaging men is necessarily counterproductive. In India, an experience shows that the framework which guides such engagement is what matters – it should not be instrumental, i.e. should not engage with men because they are “decision makers”/ “gatekeepers” and can affect service uptake, but as partners who have a responsibility to share the burden of contraception, childbearing, and rearing, and who have a responsibility and interest in advancing gender equality. Rather, that the basis of engagement aims to foster a recognition of, and discussion around, men as fathers and male privilege. As feminists have long known, men must be involved in the dismantling of structures and harmful social norms that jeopardize women’s well-being – norms such as early marriage, early childbearing, violence, restriction of mobility and so on. Even then, there is a temptation to persuade men to support women’s health and empowerment through an easier route by making utilitarian appeals like “if your daughter is well educated, she will be a good mother”. While this may help to convince the community to not force their girls to drop out of school, will it not further essentialize women’s roles as mothers?

What is the role of health systems researchers in addressing this issue? Health system researchers are in a unique position to support policy champions and bridge the gap between research and policy by linking appropriate policy audiences in developing research, disseminating research findings effectively to different stakeholders, and supporting a policy community to work on issues informed by research. A recent review, critically examining the emerging evidence base on interventions that engage men in maternal and newborn health, has found important gaps in how male involvement is conceptualized and recommends more research to document the gender transformative potential of these interventions.

Building on this, it is important to call on health systems researchers to investigate the context-specific gendered determinants of maternal health and be aware of how interventions interact with these contexts. Such informed investigations would ensure that evidence-based approaches to engage men to keep gender equality, women’s autonomy and rights at the center, rather than focusing instrumentally on health outcomes alone. There is a need for efforts that engage policy makers and implementers in supporting long-lasting change, rather than superficial measures that further involve men in maternal health in ways that may not be helpful and indeed in some instances be harmful.

 

By Sana Contractor, A.S.M. Shahabuddin, Linda Waldman, Asha George and Rosemary Morgan

Source: internationalhealthpolicies.org