Men and respectful maternity care

A man embraces his pregnant partner.

Pregnancy and childbirth are important milestones in the lives of women and men. Yet, too many women around the world experience disrespect and abuse when accessing health services during pregnancy and childbirth. This abuse can take many different forms, from physical and psychological maltreatment, to denying information or treatment, to ignoring women’s choices.

Respectful maternity care (RMC) expands the idea of safe motherhood – beyond just the prevention of morbidity or mortality – to include respect for women’s basic human rights and to emphasize women’s autonomy, dignity, feelings, and preferences, as put forth in the Respectful Maternity Care Charter: the Universal Rights of Childbearing Women. Respectful maternity care has important implications for the health of women and children, as the fear of abuse and of disrespect is a more powerful deterrent to the use of skilled facility care than more commonly recognized barriers such as cost or distance.

MenCare partners emphasize the prenatal period as an entry point for promoting equitable, nonviolent fatherhood. In addition to being fathers and partners, men are also involved in maternity care as family members, as health and service providers, as community members, and as leaders. Additional efforts are needed to engage men, in all of these roles, as allies in support of maternity care that respects, promotes, and facilitates women’s choices and their autonomy in decision-making. These efforts must also ensure that they do not promote men’s involvement in ways that reinforce or increase men’s control over decisions about women’s bodies or their healthcare.

There are already organizations and individuals working on this issue. Frequent readers of the MenCare newsletter and blog may have read about the efforts by Instituto Papai and partners in Brazil who released the documentary “Father Is Not A Visitor,” (“Pai não é visita!,” in Portuguese). The film highlights a woman’s right under Brazilian law to be accompanied by a partner when giving birth. Since 2004, the law has guaranteed a woman’s right, if she so chooses, to be accompanied by a companion during labor, delivery, and the immediate postpartum period. However, the law is frequently violated at hospitals and health centers across the country, and men are often turned away at the delivery room doors. This is just one important example of advocating for respectful maternity care and the rights of women.

MenCare’s global co-coordinator Promundo is working with the White Ribbon Alliance, USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Survival Program, and Jhpiego to better understand the issue of men and respectful maternity care, and to develop relevant guidelines and resources.

We need your help!

Please click here to tell us about your experiences and views on engaging men to contribute to a higher quality of maternity care and to promote gender equality and social justice.

Interested in learning more about respectful maternity care? Check out the resources on the RMC Wiki.