A study in Tanzania involving interviews and focus groups of fathers found barriers to men’s engagement in antenatal services. These result in a split in behaviour – some men attend with their wives, others do not. Fathers identified two kinds of barriers: the way antenatal clinics are designed and cultural norms.
A key recommendation from the study is that male champions in the community – those already accompanying their wives to clinics and engaging fully – should work to engage and educate other men around the importance of attending health facilities.
The study took place in Misungwi District in Northwestern Tanzania, a predominantly rural area. It involved 12 interviews and five focus group discussions with fathers / expectant fathers. In addition, there were interviews with health providers, community health workers and village leaders.
Men described the lack of physical space at antenatal clinics.
“They enter her in the room and then you stay outside like a watchman of the bicycle!”
“No chairs or space…..You just waste your time walking around the health facility and exchanging ideas with your fellow men.”
“You are only one or two men alone while seated with many pregnant women around you, you feel ashamed.”
One father explained that men should hear the results of medical examinations so that they can act accordingly to support health. The researchers point out that not all pregnant women want to speak freely with their partners, and that different preferences need to be catered for.
Some men identified cultural barriers. For example, some women are secretive about the pregnancy and share little with their husbands. Other men express concern about negative reactions from others, such as the idea that a man accompanying his wife to a clinic has had a spell cast on him by his wife.
One man described a split between two types of behaviour.
“There are two categories in this community: those who are somehow educated and those who are too traditional. For the educated category, the act of escorting your partners to ANC services is regarded as caring and loving and is seen as normal, but, for the other groups of men, escorting their partner to the clinic is regarded as someone who has been whipped by his wife.”
In addition to engaging men who are actively involved as champions, the researchers recommend that:
- Health care workers and pregnant women should communicate progress with the pregnancy to partners who come to the clinic.
- Local governments and communities should challenge gender norms that restrict involvement by men.
- Antenatal clinics should create environments that are comfortable for both women and their partners.
Boniphace M et al (2021), Men perspectives on attending antenatal care visits with their pregnant partners in Misungwi district, rural Tanzania: a qualitative study, BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 21
Header photo: MCHIP NET. Creative Commons.