On December 2nd, Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) and Knowledge SUCCESS hosted the third session in the second module of the Connecting Conversations series, Parents, Preachers, Partners, and Phones: Engaging Critical Influencers in Improving Young People’s Reproductive Health. This particular session focused on partners, and the engagement of partners in conversations around family planning, access to reproductive health care, gender norms, and power relations. During this session, we heard from Anjalee Kohli, Associate Professor at the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University, Akim Assani Osseni, RMA and Community Based Services Technical Manager at Pathfinder International, and Shamsi Kazimbaya, Senior Program Officer at Promundo U.S.
Missed this session? Read the summary below or access the recordings.
Panelists spoke to the successes they have seen when it comes to engaging with partners of adolescents. Akim Assani Osseni spoke about the Reaching Married Adolescents (RMA) program in rural Niger, which has created an educational program for men around pregnancy and voluntary family planning. Through mentorship and education for both partners, couples tend to be more informed and more united when it comes to understanding access to family planning. He noted that religious leaders are key in transforming the norms of a community. (If you did not have a chance to watch our session on faith leaders, you can find the recordings here.)
Anjalee Kohli highlighted the importance of community engagement and mentorship within a community and the need to engage men, specifically men who are about to be fathers or who are parents of young children, in conversations around family planning. She spoke about her work on the REAL Fathers Initiative and emphasized the mentoring used in the program. The REAL Fathers Initiative creates mentorship opportunities for new fathers by pairing them with older men in their communities whose opinions are respected and who have been trained to facilitate dialogue with younger men about healthy and positive masculinities. Shamsi Kazimbaya continued the conversation around reaching partners by discussing lack of access to contraception and highlighting the need to dismantle gender norms and dynamics and break down power relations in order to increase access.
“We need to bring together young men to start reflecting and challenging those negative and harmful norms so that they are prepared when they become fathers.” – Shamsi Kazimbaya
Ms. Kohli spoke to how the REAL Fathers Initiative emphasizes the importance of engaging young men in creating dialogue and mentorship between older and younger men within a community. The project utilizes emotion-based messaging with the intent of creating a space for men to explore their emotions. The program opened up a space for more communication between partners and possibilities for shifting norms such as family size.
Ms. Kazimbaya echoed the success of the mentorship approach and the ease of the program to create a more informed group. She brought up the need to not stay stagnant within programs and to move forward and scale up programs.
“The first thing that men say that changed for them is that their hearts and minds opened and they started to realize that they could have a very different relationship in their family and with their wives.” –Anjalee Kohli
Ms. Kazimbaya mentioned that it is essential to explain the “why” behind the projects and the root causes involved in the issues. She emphasized the importance of challenging harmful norms through a gender-transformative lens at both the local and globals levels: it is vital to create more positive community approaches while working to improve broader policies and structures that require government buy-in.
Ms. Kohli discussed how the REAL Fathers Initiative works to address and break down norms such as expectations for who should make household decisions and who gets the final say in terms of family planning. In addition to the extensive mentorship program, the program also features a celebration that encourages the men to maintain the behaviors they have adopted. She mentioned that it is necessary to train and build capacity in gender considerations and behavior change in order to creatively approach the engagement of partners from a gender-transformative lens.
Mr. Assani Osseni discussed the ways in which the RMA project has developed a mentorship approach that is based on mentors in the same generation–community leaders who may have more experience with communication and gender role issues mentoring new husbands and fathers. The RMA project works to create a safe space and to allow for open and free conversations with the intention of men sharing advice with one another. One of the main goals is to empower men to be a part of the housework, be in support of accessing contraception, and to have open communication lines with their partners.
“We encouraged them (husbands) to exchange experiences and to have open and free conversations about some of these issues.” -Akim Assani Osseni
Ms. Kohli discussed how the REAL Fathers Initiative focuses on the transitional life stage of men becoming fathers (instead of age differences) in order to target new fathers. Mr. Assani Osseni continued the conversation by acknowledging that every couple is different and that RMA works with couples of a variety of ages, but the framework remains the same: creating space in small group meetings for open dialogue. Additionally, involving other members of the family and community members, such as religious leaders, is key in breaking generational barriers and shifting norms.
Ms. Kohli spoke to the resistance from some of a man’s wives if only one of them was involved in the program, acknowledging that there might not be as much of a buy-in. She mentioned that there are more opportunities for the REAL Fathers Initiative to unpack the impacts of polygamous relationships and factor these impacts into program design and implementation.
The speakers discussed how important it is to truly understand the key value-add, approaches, and mechanisms for change involved in a project in order to scale it up. Ms. Kazimbaya shared an experience in Rwanda where the project was scaled up from a local level. She emphasized funding and working with the government as key in sustaining the program for the long term. Furthermore, generating evidence for the government to showcase the results is an important way to prove the value of the project and the need to scale up.
Ms. Kohli noted how important it is to understand what is needed in order to adapt to changing contexts and how that was done with the REAL Fathers Initiative through a Scale Up Brief and consequently a Scale Up Results Brief.
Lastly, Mr. Assani Osseni echoed the idea that health ministers and the government need to buy-into the program in order for the program to successfully scale up. He also mentioned that simplicity and low-cost approaches are helpful when presenting scale-up plans to the government.
“The better we can understand how projects are working in context when they are working, the better we can do adaptation into new contexts.” – Anjalee Kohli
“Connecting Conversations” is a series of discussions on adolescent and youth reproductive health hosted by FP2020 and Knowledge SUCCESS. Over the next year, we will be co-hosting these sessions every two weeks or so on a variety of topics through five modules. We’re using a more conversational style, encouraging open dialogue and allowing plenty of time for questions. We guarantee you will be coming back for more!
The series will be divided into five modules.
Our first module, which started on July 15 and ran through September 9, focused on a foundational understanding of adolescent development and health. Presenters—including experts from organizations such as the World Health Organization, Johns Hopkins University, and Georgetown University—offered a framework for understanding adolescent and youth reproductive health, and implementing stronger programs with and for young people.
Our second module, Parents, Preachers, Partners, Phones: Engaging Critical Influencers to Improve Young People’s Reproductive Health, began on November 4 and concluded on December 16. Speakers included experts from Love Matters Naija, Hidden Pockets India, Pathfinder International, and Tearfund United Kingdom. Discussions explored key learnings on engaging parents, religious leaders and communities, partners, and digital approaches to improve young people’s reproductive health.