Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Men and Sexual and Reproductive Health: The Social Revolution

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Men and Sexual and Reproductive Health: The Social Revolution

Article excerpt

An overview of the state of men's sexual and reproductive health since the 1994 Cairo Conference is presented. Men's involvement in contraception and family planning, paternal involvement, and violence toward women are noted. The five articles in this special issue are introduced. The authors conclude, "Cairo gave us our blueprint for action. The examples here [the five articles] give voice to the slow but important progress of engaging men in achieving this vision of true gender equality."

Keywords: International Conference on Population and Development, ICPD, Cairo Conference, men, sexual, reproductive, health, gender revolution, gender equality

In 1994, delegates from 180 countries met in Cairo at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD, or the Cairo Conference). These delegates included leading advocates in the field of sexual and reproductive health nominated by their governments as well as official representatives from national-level governments. Reflecting and deliberating on the field of sexual and reproductive health, the delegates included in the Plan of Action the following statement:

Special efforts should be made to emphasize men's shared responsibility and promote their active involvement in responsible parenthood, sexual and reproductive behaviour, including family planning; maternal and child health; prevention of STIs, including HIV;...shared control and contribution to family income, children's education, health and nutrition; and recognition...of the equal value of children of both sexes. Male responsibilities in family life must be included in the education of children from the earliest ages. Special emphasis should be placed on the prevention of violence against women and children. (United Nations, 1994)

While the Cairo Conference was seen as focusing on sexual and reproductive health, and much of it did, the Plan of Action was no less than a manifesto for a gender revolution: namely, men should be fully engaged in achieving gender equality in their family lives and intimate relationships. The Cairo Conference is rightly considered a fundamental moment in the growing international field of promoting men's positive involvement in sexual and reproductive health. It was, and still is, for those of us who are advocates in the field of engaging men in achieving gender equality, our rallying cry.

When we consider the domain of reproductive and sexual health, women's concerns have always been at the forefront. Maternal mortality and morbidity, family planning and contraception, safe and legal abortion services, and reproductive tract infections are issues that have traditionally been associated with women. Men's concerns seem to appear only when sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS or adolescent health are added to this list, and even then, their inclusion has been limited. Men have sometimes been included in these issues because in many parts of the world they largely control women's decision-making related to health care and decisions related to sexuality and reproductive health. Thus some programs have sought to encourage "appropriate" influence or behavior on the part of men without questioning underlying structural gender inequalities. This limited instrumental approach for engaging men has been rightly criticized for maintaining the status quo of gender equality.

However, the Cairo Plan of Action is a manifesto -- not for merely "involving" men in instrumental or small-scale ways -- but for true gender equality. The Cairo Plan of Action is based on the principles of equal human rights for all, of nondiscrimination and equality of women, and the elimination of all forms of violence and coercion. These principles draw their inspiration from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, among others. …

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