By Dr Ian Clarke
I attended a seminar run by the Ministry of Health and Mama’s Club Uganda (a psychosocial support group for HIV positive mothers) specifically targeting men in preparation for International Men’s Day, which is apparently being celebrated in Uganda on 6th Dec. The initiative is to get men involved in health, gender and family issues, but the event was led only by women – Dr Diana Atwine the P.S. of Health, a senior female representative from the WHO, and Maggie Kagozi representing the private sector.
Although one has the highest respect for these ladies, the lack of male leadership highlighted what is wrong with men’s involvement. Men are poor at taking steps to ensure they stay healthy themselves, and even worse when it comes to sexual and reproductive health and HIV, which affects us all, male and female. A significant number of men are dying in their sixties due to preventable causes such as high blood pressure and Type Two Diabetes.
Their lives are being shortened by lack of care. When we talk about health issues that affect both men and women such as reproduction the situation is even worse, men don’t want to get involved. Women are right in wishing to get men to face up to their responsibilities, but there is a lack of male leadership and a tacit assumption that this stuff is for women.
As far as I am aware there are no virgin births in Uganda, which means that men are equally involved in the process of reproduction as women, yet men pretend that these are matters for women only. When one mentions family planning, men are often the ones who oppose it. When some men are asked to wear a condom, they say they want live sex, because they want to ‘feel’ the woman. However, when a baby comes along nine months later (as a side effect of unprotected sex), such men don’t want to take responsibility. Today most people realize that there are not enough resources to support our high population growth, and we need to slow down. However, it is not the women who are clamoring for more pregnancies it is the men who do not wish to take due care and responsibility. We make it too easy for men: the men have the pleasure but not the pain, and too many men father children for whom they do not take responsibility, but they do not face any discipline or sanctions from the State.
We have a high rate of pregnancies in young girls. These teenagers do not get pregnant by themselves there was a man involved. Young girls have five times the rate of HIV of boys their own age because they have been infected by older men who specifically target them. It is men who are responsible for these high rates of HIV and pregnancies among teenagers.
The reason why men are not coming forward as leaders to address these issues is simple. It is ‘men behaving badly’. I was once discussing these matters with an older respected Ugandan leader. When the subject of men being irresponsible and the consequent high rate of pregnancies came up, he laughed and said
‘Some of us are not prepared to go there’.
As a leader he did not wish to address this subject because he had so many children himself. He did not want to get involved because he felt it would be ‘the pot calling the kettle black’.
Trying to deal with these important issues with little male involvement is like trying to balance on one leg. These are not issues to be relegated to women working in the health sector, they are big political issues that are affecting the future of our country, and until we have serious buy-in from the political leadership we will just be making token gestures.
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