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Engaging men and boys in FP/RH: insights from the 2022 Asia Learning Circles

Twenty-six family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) workforce members from Bangladesh, India, Japan, Nepal, Pakistan, and the Philippines working in non-profit organizations, academia, research institutions, and FP/RH networks came together for four sessions during the 2022 Asia Learning Circles cohort to share and learn from each other’s practical experiences, through structured group dialogues, on what works and what doesn’t in engaging men and boys in FP/RH.

“…Learning Circles gathered all the same-minded people in one platform, discussing interesting topics.”

Learning Circles participant

Highly interactive and small group-based, Learning Circles provides the needed space for program managers and technical advisors working in FP/RH to virtually meet and explore, brainstorm, build, and share experiences and practical knowledge with a small, trusted group of peers in just four live sessions.

In between live sessions, participants continued to reflect and exchange knowledge and ideas with each other through WhatsApp. In this cohort, some posted their photos on what’s going well in their programs or shared relevant materials they created (like this video from Pakistan developed under the Aawaz II program that was shown to communities through local cable channels). Others shared their current strategies in engaging men and boys and their dreams for FP/RH in their country and in the region.

The start of the learning process

Within the first session, in addition to getting to know each other and setting expectations, each participant reflected on the biggest challenges for engaging men and boys in FP/RH in the region. Some of these challenges included:

  • understanding FP/RH needs of men and boys,
  • engaging men and boys in rural areas,
  • insufficient local or national policies and programs on male involvement in SRH,
  • FP seen as solely a woman’s issue,
  • disinterest of men and boys in joining FP/RH activities and discussions,
  • overcoming existing and prevalent gender and socio-cultural barriers that prevent uptake of positive behaviors, and
  • lack of guidelines and tools.

Breakthrough Action’s conceptual model for engaging men and boys in FP called Know, Care, Do and the Passages Project’s Life Course Approach were used as guiding frameworks throughout all sessions. These tools helped participants discuss how to support men and boys in reaching the ideal stage of being equal partners, clients of sexual and reproductive health services, and agents of social change, and how to apply a life course perspective in FP/RH programming for men and boys.

“I believe the problem starts from the mindset of people where they don’t talk about it and consider it as a taboo … I wish that we create such an environment where people do not have to whisper in each other’s ears while discussing FP/RH. It’s about time that we realize [that] overgrowing population is a big issue and it needs our attention.”

Learning Circles participant, Pakistan

What works for engaging men and boys

During Session 2, participants identified and shared their exceptional program experience in engaging men and boys in FP/RH using two knowledge management (KM) techniques — Appreciative Inquiry and 1-4-All.

Based on individual and group reflections on their exceptional program experiences, the participants identified the following as the success factors in engaging men and boys in FP/RH:

  • Engage men and boys during the design phase through human-centered design (HCD).
  • Tailor FP/RH initiatives, advocacy and communication based on the life stage of each man or boy.
  • Use relevant eye catching materials and tools, and leverage entertainment (e.g., storytelling, games, music).
  • Provide accessible, unbiased, comfortable and private services for men and boys (e.g., male FP/RH service providers).
  • Take the conversation to them (e.g., basketball courts, work places).
  • Collaborate with respected opinion leaders, male mobilizers and influencers
  • Partner with and receive buy-in from government stakeholders, families, communities, and local leaders.
  • Use evidence-based information when doing outreach and deliver them through multiple channels.

When asked what changes need to happen either within the country or in the region for these success factors to be incorporated into programs, participants noted restrictive social norms and practices on FP/RH were the biggest challenge.

“…to begin with, we need to target the existing social norms and practices that restrict our men and boys to raise their issues honestly, [and to] seek guidance from the right people and programs. Basically [we should] normalize FP/RH as [an] equal and [an] important need and responsibility for men and boys.”

Learning Circles participant, India

Challenges with engaging men and boys

In Session 3, through a peer-to-peer coaching method called Troika Consulting, participants had the chance to ask for help and get immediate advice from others on practical steps they could take to address the major challenges they face in engaging men and boys in FP/RH. The table below shows the challenges the participants explored and the advice they received from their Learning Circles peers.

Lack of interest among men and boys

  • Provide incentives to men and boys for participating in FP/RH activities and discussions.
  • Use language men and boys relate to during outreach and discussions and tweak technical FP/RH language to suit the cultural context.
  • Understand FP/RH issues from men and boys’ perspectives and emphasize the value/benefit of understanding FP/RH — Demonstrate “what’s in it for them”.
  • Make FP/RH activities convenient (time, venue), relevant, interactive, and interesting for them with materials that are easy-to understand and age-appropriate.
  • Use social media platforms that are popular among men and boys.
  • Tap and train peer networks to influence men and boys.
  • Go where the men are when doing FP/RH activities/initiatives and have follow-up interventions.
  • Include men and boys in the design of FP/RH programs.

Stigma / social and gender norms

  • Use local male champions who understand gender stereotypes.
  • Use emotional nudges to connect with them and their families on FP/RH issues.
  • Understand the context by doing systematic research.
  • Develop social and behavior change strategies to challenge gender-based inequities.
  • Engage religious leaders/influential people in communities to create needed change.
  • Consider distributing information boxes to couples a few days before or on the day of their marriage. This couple information box include a congratulatory letter, a booklet on reproductive well-being, leaflets and samples of short term FP methods such as pills and condoms, and stickers and a wall clock promoting the national FP call center number.
  • Reach out to different generations of men and not only to youth/adolescents.

FP/RH is not a priority

  • Engage local and international journalists who can create an atmosphere that will put pressure on government officials to act upon FP/RH issues.
  • Find and connect with FP/RH champions within government who can influence policies.
  • Leverage on other think tanks to collectively speak up on FP/RH issues.

Limited access to technology

  • Do more interactive activities in areas with poor internet connectivity.
  • Use offline multimedia; convert online materials to IEC materials that can spark discussions.
  • Organize community networks or youth clubs where FP/RH knowledge will be shared.

Government buy-in

  • Proposals must: (1) always be backed up with evidence-based research, (2) show sustainability and cost-effectiveness (value for money), (3) showcase best practices, (4) be contextualized, and (5) be culturally and locally relevant.
  • Align with the government’s bigger goals, existing programs, policies and targets.
  • Create inter-sectoral collaborations and involvement of local CSO, NGO, private sectors and collectives.
  • Include the FP2030 and the 2030 SDG agendas and various other international commitments during discussions.
  • Advocate for the involvement of men and boys in collaboration with donors and development partners.

Other challenges shared include creating intergenerational impact in addressing social taboos and myths on FP/RH, engaging boys in FP/RH conversations in school without being seen as disturbing the school’s ecosystem, and changing people’s perspectives to see FP/RH as an important aspect of a person’s overall well-being.

“Social stigma is still continuing in the rural areas. People do not want to share their queries related to family planning to anyone.”

Learning Circles participant, India

Moving forward

In the last session participants developed specific and relevant commitment statements within their power and control on how to better engage men and boys in FP/RH. These commitment statements build off of strategies and approaches they discovered through discussions with colleagues during the Learning Circles sessions. Commitment statements are an evidence-based behavioral science method that help one to stay on track. Some of the commitments made were:

  • Collaborate with a digital media agency for social media content creation targeted to 12–24-year-old boys (Learning Circles participant, Nepal)
  • Start research on the local policy landscape of male involvement in reproductive health (Learning Circles participant, Philippines)
  • Develop a curriculum for engaging boys in school on FP/RH and life skills (Learning Circles participant, India)
  • Lobby to heads of boys’ educational institutions to bring in SRH education (Learning Circles participant, Pakistan)
  • Communicate with stakeholders to develop activities that are more focused to male clients of FP services (Learning Circles participant, Bangladesh)

“FP services delivered in an integrated manner, political will generated to make RH/FP a priority agenda, unmet needs covered, and women empowered on reproductive health [issues] … this is my dream, if we don’t deal with women health issues, we will not be able to deal with population and environment issues.”

Learning Circles participant, Pakistan

“I envision [a] society where people can talk about FP/RH issues without any hesitations. All have age-appropriate knowledge, [and] access to comprehensive information/services when needed without judgment.”

Learning Circles participant, Nepal

Through Learning Circles, FP/RH workforce members from Asia were able to grow their knowledge and strengthen their understanding on issues in engaging men and boys in FP/RH, to network and build relationships with colleagues facing similar challenges, and to generate new ideas and practical solutions in improving FP/RH program implementation. Simultaneously, they also learned new KM tools and techniques that they can use in their organizations to facilitate creative ways in exchanging knowledge and effective practices.

To learn more about Learning Circles and insights from the previous Asia Learning Circles on Ensuring Continuity of Essential FP/RH Services During Emergencies, click HERE.

Do you want to know more about the KM tools and techniques used in Learning Circles and how to do it? Check out this resource! Interested in learning more about how to apply knowledge management in your work? Send me an email at: gayoso.grace@knowledgesuccess.org.

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Grace Gayoso Pasion

Regional Knowledge Management Officer, Asia, Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs

Grace Gayoso-Pasion is currently the Asia Regional Knowledge Management (KM) Officer for Knowledge SUCCESS at the Johns Hopkins Center for Communications Program. More known as Gayo, she is a development communication professional with nearly two decades of experience in communication, public speaking, behavior change communication, training and development, and knowledge management. Spending most of her career in the nonprofit sector, specifically in the public health field, she has worked on the challenging task of teaching complex medical and health concepts to urban and rural poor in the Philippines, most of whom never finished primary or secondary school. She is a longtime advocate for simplicity in speaking and writing. After completing her graduate degree in communications from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore as an ASEAN scholar, she has been working in regional KM and communication roles for international development organizations assisting various Asian countries with improving their health communication and KM skills. She is based in the Philippines.

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