Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Masculinity and Health in Nigeria: Vulnerabilities, Indifference and Options

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Masculinity and Health in Nigeria: Vulnerabilities, Indifference and Options

Article excerpt

After the International Conference on Population and Development of 1994, sexual and reproductive health (SRH) programs respond to ways in which socially constructed ideologies have shaped women's experiences of SRH. There is however no commensurate attempt to understand men's perception of gender ideologies. What is known is that men are often blamed for women's SRH needs, with little or no attempt to understand men's view on these. This study was designed to examine how socially constructed differences between men and women affect men's experience of SRH. This study draws on qualitative data generated in 2005 from twenty focus group discussions, ten in-depth interviews and ten interviews with community leaders in urban and rural areas of South East Nigeria. The group discussions and interviews were conducted among men of four age groups: 15-24, 25-39, 40-54, and 55+. Gender role theory was the theoretical framework for the study. The major themes from content analysis include: men's health risks, beliefs about masculine ideologies, and attitudes about vulnerability to health risks. Although traditional masculine ideologies and practices were identified, there is evidence of a shift from traditional to nontraditional attitudes and practices among men in the area. Most of the men were aware of their health needs, but think that researchers/policy makers in Nigeria are indifferent to these needs. The findings highlight the necessity of incorporating men's SRH needs into existing reproductive health programs. This would promote effective male involvement in their partners' SRH. Implications of findings for future research and advocacy are discussed.

Keywords: Nigeria, Masculinity ideologies, Culture, Reproductive Health, traditional

A major turning point in the field of demography came in 1994 when the International Conference on Population and Development consensus stated the need to involve men in population health issues. Veiy importantly the post-Cairo idea of reproductive health stresses the reproductive health needs of all individuals, including men. Reproductive health programs that emerged from Cairo and Beijing conferences address male reproductive health as a fundamental human right (Cliquet & Thienpont, 1995; Dudgeon, 2003). While reproductive health needs of men have been placed squarely on the research and policy agenda, there are still many unanswered questions about issues around male sexual and reproductive health (Drennan, 1998; Mbizvo, 1996; Presser & Sen, 2000). Similarly while it is generally acknowledged that gender-based customs and ideas promote men's behavior, there is a notable lack of research on men's understanding of these gender issues and how they impact on men's health especially in sub-Sahara African context (AGI, 2002; Courtenay, 1998; Danforth & Green, 1997; Drennan, 1998; Hawkes, 1998; Hull, 2000; IPPF/RHO/AVSC, 1998; Sabo & Gordon, 1995). Men's studies in Nigeria and elsewhere in third world countries, however, have examined male role from the prism of deficit: men need to do more to participate in preconceived sexual and reproductive health programs (Ezeh, 1993; Feyisetan, 1998; Isiugo-abanihe, 2003; SSRHN, 1999; UNFPA, 2001). Overemphasis on male involvement in women's reproductive health has led to an oversight of men's health needs.

This study was designed to examine men's perceptions of masculinity and its consequences. Rather than understand what men believe and feel and their health problems, men have often been studied from the perspective of what we could learn about them in order to convince them to participate in preconceived women's sexual and reproductive health programs. Unless men's needs are identified, addressed and included in current reproductive health activities, there is limited scope for improving the well-being of women (IPPF/RHO/AVSC, 1998). Done correctly, this offers an effective means of promoting male involvement in reproductive health needs of their partners and achieving gender equity. …

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