Family Planning Focuses on Men Zimbabwe Program Works to Change Male Attitudes and Encourage the Use of Contraceptives. STABILIZING POPULATION

By Nina Shapiro, | The Christian Science Monitor, July 5, 1990 | Go to article overview

Family Planning Focuses on Men Zimbabwe Program Works to Change Male Attitudes and Encourage the Use of Contraceptives. STABILIZING POPULATION


Nina Shapiro,, The Christian Science Monitor


STANDING before 100 male peasants clustered in a remote rural schoolhouse, Apollonia Chirimuta addresses a subject that most men here would rather not think about.

"Why is it men don't consider family planning their business when they take an interest in everything else?" she asks with an irreverence unusual for a woman in this still patriarchal society.

Anticipating ruffled feathers among the socially conservative crowd, Tonderai Musakwa - with Ms. Chirimuta, is on a mission to promote family planning here - soon begs forgiveness for his colleague's impertinence.

"Culturally, women are not supposed to stand in front of men and speak to them," he says. "But maybe, they are doing so now, because there is so big a problem. And that problem is family planning."

Speaking "man to man" with the peasants, Mr. Musakwa acknowledges the desire for domestic supremacy. But, he says, machismo will not pay the bills of a teeming family. "Every man wants to be like a bull. But you can't be a bull if you can't manage your own family."

A murmur of agreement runs through the crowd. Yet, in trying to break down the resistance of men to family planning, Musakwa and Chirimuta have their work cut out for them.

A gray-haired man voices a common concern, that his wife will become promiscuous if she faces little danger of pregnancy. He also worries that sterilization, discussed earlier in the day, might affect his masculinity.

"If I'm sterilized, my wife will look down on me. She will go to look for other boyfriends," he says.

Despite such concerns, the call for smaller families strikes a resonant chord among these men who, like others in the rural areas, are hardest hit by growth in the population.

Already, in this dusty village of small plots and circular brick huts, there is not enough arable land to go around. In an area where people survive on the food they grow, the availability of land is a matter of life and death.

Consequently, when Musakwa's team is finished with its presentation, the men line up for the condoms it has brought. Emerging from the school house with a packet of condoms tucked into his shirt pocket, Lovemore Ndondoro says the presentation sounded sensible to him.

"If you have more children, you won't be able to clothe them or send them to school," he says.

This family-planning workshop is part of an innovative campaign that targets the country's men, who have long been a hindrance to birth-control efforts. Women here run the risk of being labeled a prostitute or even being beaten by their husbands if they suggest using contraceptives.

The campaign comes out of a growing international awareness that men must be won over if population control is to succeed.

Recently, the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) issued a worldwide call for pressure to be put on men to become involved in family planning.

"Unless men can be encouraged to change their attitudes - and behavior - population is likely to continue growing too fast for the earth's resources to sustain," the organization warned in a report.

Men's cooperation is particularly critical in traditional societies, where women are subservient to their husbands.

While family planning is often considered a woman's issue, experts are finding that it is men who usually determine whether contraceptives are used.

"We found that men were the ones making the decisions," says Chirimuta.

Consequently, two years ago, the quasi-governmental Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council set about changing men's attitudes in one of the only programs of its kind. …

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