Engaging Men and Boys in Family Planning


Though traditional family planning programs focus primarily on women, men are often the primary decision makers about family size, health services, and family planning methods. Many women cannot make family planning decisions or access services and products without their male partners’ permission, agreement, or financial support. Programs that optimize the constructive engagement of men can improve health outcomes for women, men, and families.

Continue reading to learn about men’s engagement in family planning:

Masculinity norms make some men unsure about family planning. Men might fear that using contraception will allow their partner to be promiscuous, they might feel pressure to produce many children as a sign of their virility, or they might worry that male methods like vasectomy will affect negatively their sexual performance.

Men may take a range of roles in family planning:

  • Forbidding women to seek health care or use contraception, or coercively making decisions for their partners
  • Being completely uninvolved or ignorant of women’s reproductive health needs and family planning options
  • Supporting their partners by helping them access information, services, and products–or by using male contraceptive methods themselves
  • Acting as advocates or agents of change in their communities for improved reproductive health and gender equality

Men’s engagement programs are most effective when they challenge gender inequality. Evidence shows that bringing men into family planning clinics with their partners is not enough to change the dynamics between women and men that pose barriers to reproductive health. Men’s engagement programs should focus on open communication between partners and shared decision making about family size and method choice, all while maintaining women’s agency over their own bodies.

An ongoing challenge for men’s engagement programs is to invest in bringing evidence-based, effective men’s engagement programming to scale. The most successful men’s engagement interventions are time-intensive and require significant investments to implement on a large scale.

Click through the menu below to explore messages, research, and educational resources related to this topic.

Unequal relationships between women and men can lead to poor reproductive health.

  • Evidence shows that men’s engagement in family planning and reproductive health can improve health outcomes.
  • The most effective men’s engagement programs promote equality between women and men: It is not enough for men to simply go with their partners to the clinic.
  • Male Engagement: The involvement of men and boys in reproductive health programs as a) clients and beneficiaries, b) partners, and c) a agents of change, in order to actively promote gender equality and transform inequitable definitions of masculinity. (IGWG 2013)
  • Gender: Gender embodies a culturally-defined set of economic, social, and political roles, responsibilities, rights, entitlements, obligations, and power dynamics associated with being female and male. Ideas and expectations about gender vary across cultures and over time. (OHA/PEPFAR, modified from IGWG)
  • Sex: Sex refers to the classification of people as male or female. At birth, infants are assigned a sex based on a combination of bodily characteristics including chromosomes, hormones, internal reproductive organs, and genitalia. (USAID March 2012 Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy)

The Gender and Health certificate program of the Global Health eLearning Center offers a comprehensive study of key gender issues in global health. Earn your certificate by working at your own pace to complete all four courses. You can take any of these courses regardless of your interest in the certificate.

  • Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting This course sheds light on female genital mutilation/cutting, its global prevalence rates, and related socio-economic factors such as age, generational trends, and educational and socioeconomic status.
  • Gender and Health Systems Strengthening This course will help global health professionals to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in health systems strengthening efforts.
  • Gender and Sexual and Reproductive Health 101 Gender norms influence people’s access to and use of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services and programming. Anyone interested in gaining an introduction to gender and sexual and reproductive health will benefit from taking this course.
  • Gender Monitoring & Evaluation Integrating gender into program monitoring and evaluation is an important step towards understanding whether and how health programs address gender inequalities or gender-related health and development issues.

Read about how hospitals in Afghanistan overcame barriers to postpartum family planning by involving male partners.Learn how programs in Pakistan addressed unmet need and improved access to family planning by including a module on Islam and family planning in provider training programs, which better enabled providers to communicate with couples about gender norms and contraception.

Engaging Men and Adolescent Boys (Health Communication Capacity Collaborative, 2017; PDF, 2.17MB) This brief, part of the HC3 In Action series, describes key examples from across HC3 that can help inform future efforts to engage men and boys in achieving and maintaining an AIDS-free generation, increasing demand for family planning, ending preventable child and maternal deaths, and realizing a malaria-free world. Approaches to male involvement have evolved into constructive male engagement—engaging men and boys as clients, supportive partners and agents of change.

Men as Contraceptive Users: Programs, Outcomes and Recommendations (The Evidence Project, 2016; PDF, 1.67MB) This paper reviews 47 current activities, programs, and evidence that affect men’s use of contraceptive methods, drawing from published and grey literature, as well as interviews with organizations and institutions focusing on men as users of contraception in low- and middle-income countries. The review includes three methods that men use directly (condoms, vasectomy and withdrawal) and one that requires their direct cooperation (the Standard Days Method).

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