Defying the odds
A Zambian man, whom we will call "John*," is working to change the traditional norm of male dominance, and the lack of male involvement in safe motherhood, as a result of his participation in the USAID-funded Zambia-led Prevention Initiative (ZPI)'s Men Taking Action (MTA) initiative.
John grew up in a gender-imbalanced society where he demonstrated his power as a husband through acts of violence. Love and affection were seen as signs of weakness. He recalls, "before the Men Taking Action training, I used to beat my wife most of the time. I remember how I one day beat my wife when she was pregnant with our first child, simply because she let our neighbor assist her to go for antenatal."
He did not escort his wife to the antenatal clinic; as he explains, "I did not understand the importance of antenatal clinic attendance for pregnant women." He had the power and prerogative to decide what was good for the family; at times, he made the wrong decision because he did not consult his wife on family issues.
The MTA initiative, currently being implemented by ZPI in seven Zambian provinces, encourages increased male involvement in the family's reproductive health issues and prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV. ZPI workers visit community members to sensitize and educate them on HIV prevention and the importance of male involvement in all issues pertaining to their family's well-being.
After being exposed to the Champions' educational and social behavior change communication messages, John became a Men Taking Action Champion himself, educating other men in the village. He said, "after the Men taking Action training, I vowed to be more helpful and supportive to my family."
When John's wife became pregnant with their second child, he accompanied his wife to every antenatal care clinic visit and waited throughout the night at the hospital for her to deliver a baby boy, which he would not have thought of doing before. John exclaimed, "This experience has brought us closer because I was around the whole time my wife was in labor."
When some of John's male colleagues discovered that he had escorted his wife to the clinic to deliver, they ridiculed him, saying "now you have truly lost your senses, why are you accompanying your wife to the Labor Ward, when it is the responsibility of your mother-in–law?" He responded that, "it is my responsibility to take care of my wife, whether her relatives are present or not."
Since then, John escorted his wife and children on postnatal and children's clinic visits. He now spends his free time assisting his wife with domestic chores and parenting. He said, "I have enjoyed quality time with this baby more than I did when William [his first son] was young; I hold him and carry him around, and just bring him to his mother for breast feeding."
John owes this change to ZPI and the MTA initiative. He said, "without the Men Taking Action initiative, I would not have learned the importance of being a good husband and father." Champions like John are helping men in Zambian communities to change their perceptions of traditional gender norms and to be more engaged in and supportive of safe motherhood and reproductive health issues.
*Name has been changed.