Feature Story

11 July 2007

It Takes Two: Men as Partners in Maternal Health

Kitchai Khankaew of Thailand bathes his baby for the first time.
Photo: Thitiporn Winijmongkolsin/UNFPA

UNITED NATIONS, New York—Having children is a partnership. It is one in which women face greater risks, both because of physiological differences and gender inequities. Women have a right to health, but protecting that right often depends on a partner’s support.

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, has chosen Men as Partners in Maternal Health as the theme of World Population Day. There is a simple reason, as UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said recently (view the video). "Men are equal partners in making the new life that the women will deliver."

This emphasis on men’s involvement in maternal health comes at the midpoint of the 15-year period set for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. It is now clear that the target of reducing maternal deaths by 75 per cent by 2015 will not be met without the concerted efforts of all involved. Men – as partners, fathers, husbands, brothers, policy makers and community and religious leaders – have a critical role to play in safeguarding the maternal health of women.

Different UNFPA-supported programmes, projects and activities around the world are working to foster greater partnership in this arena in various ways. 

In this advocacy video, for example, UNFPA in the Philippines used humour to highlight gender disparities that undermine maternal health, posing the question, "What if it were the other way around?"

The following feature stories also describe ways in which UNFPA encourages positive partnerships between men and women, during pregnancy, childbirth and beyond.

Men of Honour: Male Leaders in Nigeria Work to Protect Women's Health

AMBURSA, Kebbi State, Nigeria—In the halls of an emir’s palace in northern Nigeria, a council of senior traditional leaders moves into the main receiving room, their flowing white robes coming gently to rest as they take their seats. A single official rises to deliver the message of Sarkin Kudun, the Emir of Ambursa.  more

A Father's Magic Touch: Building Positive Partnerships in Thailand

BANGKOK, Thailand—Jenjira Boonlom lies wearily on her bed in the post-partum ward of the Bangkhen district hospital. Despite the pain, she feels blissful, appreciating Vorayuth, her husband, and his dedication to her and to their Dream: a one-week-old baby girl on his lap.  more

Raising Awareness Among Men Helps Save Women's Lives in West Java

NEGLASARI VILLAGE, Indonesia—For years, villagers here didn’t realize that too many of their wives, daughters and mothers were dying needlessly. “People thought deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth were not unusual,” recalls Nurlela, a midwife serving Neglasari village in the Tasikmalaya district. “And village men believed that women should be responsible for their own health and well-being.”  more

Do Real Men Take Care of the Kids? Changing Perspectives on Gender in Brazil

RECIFE, Brazil — “I get no respect from my friends for staying home with Gabriel,” says José Silas as he lounges on the sofa with his eight-month-old son, Gabriel. In their tiny concrete home in the balmy Brazilian city of Recife, a football [soccer] game is playing on TV, flickering a greenish light on the sofa where Gabriel is squirming around naked.  more

Giving Vietnamese Men the Support They Need to Be Supportive Partners

THAI BINH, Viet Nam – Representing different generations and occupations, Vinh, Hanh, Sinh and Toan form an unlikely, nervous group in the heat of a small waiting area at a health clinic in Viet Nam’s Red River Delta region. What unites them – and distinguishes them from many of their peers – is that they have all come to this non-government-run clinic with their wives. They are paying a fee – and staying involved – out of a commitment to the reproductive health of their partners.  more

Men Challenge Destructive Concepts of Masculinity in Zimbabwe

HARARE, Zimbabwe — "Men do cry," reads a poster in the Harare headquarters of Padare – the Men's Forum on Gender. This short message speaks volumes about the enormous agenda of Padare: to alter deeply-rooted ideas about masculinity, sexuality and gender.  more

From the Statehouse to the Marketplace: Fighting FGM/C on All Fronts in Nigeria

OSUN STATE, Nigeria — From the shade of a small porch, Chief J.O. Aderibigbe rises to take the floor at this gathering of traditional birth attendants. Resplendent in his pink kaftan, he speaks emphatically in the local language of Yoruba. His colleagues look on, garbed in equally beautiful attire, which belies the poverty of their dusty, impoverished small town in southern Nigeria.   more