How not to engage men in maternal health: the deficit perspective (Zimbabwe)

Zimbabwe men

The factors that result in men not participating in maternal healthcare are multiple and result from a whole culture that defines who does what in a society. We have shown on this website many times that this culture is surprisingly easy to change if  maternal health services take a leadership role and drive different expectations. This connects with the aspirations and anxieties that many partners of pregnant women feel and the results can be fast and positive.

There is, however, another way of looking at things, where the responsibility is placed entirely on men to change. A good example of this is a recent article in News Day in Zimbabwe, Men: Missing factor in maternal health campaigns.

The writer, Phillip Chidavaensi, argues that the problem is that men view involvement in maternal health as “sissy”, that they are afraid of losing face, that they are not comfortable with involving themselves, that they need to change their attitude, that they often have “little regard” for information to their wives, that they need to made to understand that they have a role in maternal health and that if the child dies it is also their loss.

This perspective has been much analysed in family services and given the name “deficit perspective”. Put briefly: men are a problem, we need to fix them, they need to be made to understand, then it will be OK. Sadly the analysis behind this approach is incorrect and the approach does not work.

But in the same article, another perspective is presented, one that looks more widely at social and cultural factors, and quotes a 2001 WHO report. “Whatever the goodwill on the part of men, their participation in tackling safe motherhood issues is constrained by externalities, such as widespread poverty, multiplicity of physical barriers to access to maternity care, inadequate health infrastructure and low morale of personnel.”

This approach does not point the finger of blame at particular people – men or women – but sees the problems in the environment and the bigger picture. This allows for a more positive and less judgemental approach to families, which is a precondition for them accepting an invitation to participate in something that changes social norms.


Photo: DFID. Creative Commons.