Engaging Men in Reducing Maternal, Newborn, and Child Mortality: Lessons from Bangladesh, Ghana, Haiti, Nigeria, and Senegal

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When men are involved as parents and caregivers, it can have wide-ranging benefits for the health and well-being of their families and themselves. Lessons from around the world indicate that thoughtfully designed group-based interventions – which aim to identify, challenge, and shift harmful gender norms – can help mobilize social change. Specifically, programs that work with new and expectant fathers to critically reflect on what it means to be a man and a father can create positive, gender-transformative changes in their lives and the lives of their partners and children. 

A new set of three learning briefs from Plan International Canada and Equimundo documents lessons learned from Plan International Canada’s Strengthening Health Outcomes for Women and Children (SHOW) project, a multi-country, 4.5-year gender-transformative project aiming to reduce maternal and child mortality among vulnerable women and children in underserved regions of five countries: Bangladesh, Ghana, Haiti, Nigeria, and Senegal, and to advance gender equality. 

Gleaned through Equimundo’s and Plan International Canada’s experiences with the SHOW project, as well as with similar group-based programs that work with fathers to help them become more involved caregivers and partners, these briefs highlight the importance of: effectively framing programs to recruit and retain male participants; ensuring high-quality facilitation; and including populations that are typically missing from such programs. 

Written for practitioners, the briefs highlight lessons learned and recommendations for designing, implementing, and sustaining effective gender-transformative programs: activities or interventions that seek to identify, challenge, and change harmful gender norms and relations, access and control of resources, and power dynamics, in order to promote gender equity and individual agency. Lessons learned include:

How to effectively recruit and retain male participants:

  • Consider participants’ constraints (like the seasonality of work or transport difficulties) when choosing the location for and scheduling group sessions.
  • Frame the messaging and program approach to appeal to men’s aspirations for themselves as involved caregivers and partners and use a strengths-based approach by building on what men and fathers already know.
  • Include participants and communities in adapting the content to make sure it is contextually relevant and that participants can relate it to their everyday lives.
  • Engage and mobilize communities and families of participants beyond the recruitment stage so that they feel involved and invested in the program in the long-term. This may potentially serve to mitigate backlash in the community as gender norms are questioned and challenged by participants during the program.

How to ensure high-quality facilitation to secure a high-degree of participation, retention, and impact:

  • Select facilitators with careful consideration of their interpersonal skills, qualities, and backgrounds. The ideal facilitator is authentic, open to other people and new ideas, able to create a safe space for discussion, an active listener, and able to manage groups successfully. Facilitators should also be familiar with the communities they work in and with participants’ daily, lived realities.
  • Successful training for high-quality facilitators can take different formats but have a few minimum requirements. The content should cover concepts like gender as a social construct, power, and violence against women, and teach facilitators how to identify and address their own biases, respond to disclosures of violence, and mobilize for social change. The duration of the training should allow enough time to practice facilitation skills and build cohesion in the group.
  • Motivate and support facilitators by carefully considering remuneration while balancing needs for the program’s sustainability, providing constructive feedback with sensitivity, and creating spaces for facilitators to reflect and learn from each other. Clear supervisory structures can help in smoother monitoring and support of facilitators.

How to ensure participation by those who may be currently ignored or excluded – such as individuals with low literacy levels, members of the family beyond the couple, and the broader community.

  • Facilitate work with low-literacy facilitators and participants by adapting manuals and program materials to focus on practical questions over theoretical ones, or by using media and technology like pictorial resources and cell phones to facilitate access where literacy is a barrier.
  • Engage additional family members – especially women’s in-laws. This can be a critical component of challenging and shifting gender norms in the household, especially as it relates to unpaid care work. 
  • Engage the broader community though different points of entry and strategies, depending on the program’s context. The potential benefits of gaining community buy-in, including greater participation and retention rates, are notable and make it worthwhile to evaluate and implement these strategies carefully.

Read all three briefs in this learning series:
Recruitment and Retention of Male Participants in Gender-Transformative Programs
Engaging Missing Populations in Gender-Transformative Programs
Role of Facilitation in Gender-Transformative Programs That Engage Men and Boys

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