Men and Reproductive Health

Writing over at RH Reality Check, Rupert Walder asks an interesting question: is there room for men in reproductive health

A message is a message, but support for male involvement programmes seem quite an ask when there is insufficient funding for women’s reproductive health around the globe. Tim Shand, who is in charge of male involvement programmes at the International Planned Parenthood Federation, says it is not about money, but a change of focus. “We need to re-orientate, not necessarily increase funding,” he argues. “Are abortion services for women? Or for men and families too? While we maintain that reproductive health is a women’s issue, it will remain a low priority and not part of the real politique.”

Shand welcomes UNFPA’s focus on male involvement, and says that there is evidence to prove that male involvement programmes do genuinely work. But he takes a hard line about differentiating programmes for men and programmes for women. “It is not either women, or men. At IPPF, we are supporting projects that want men and women to work together to improve their reproductive and sexual health.”

It’s an interesting take, but I’m not sure that I agree with Shand.

Lamentably, Shand is right that as long as reproductive health is shunted off into the land of “women’s issues” (like other unimportant things like education, health care, and child care), it will be viewed as a triviality, unlike truly important things like war and tax cuts.  But the answer isn’t necessarily to studiously declare that men must be fully involved at all levels of the reproductive health debate.

For one, it’s a simple nod to reality: men do not suffer the consequences of reproduction at the same level as women.  It would be a nicer and fairer world if we did, but we don’t, and pretending that men have as much invested in reproductive health as women is silly.

Moreover, if we start to wonder, as Strand does, “Are abortion services for women? Or for men and families too?” we end up in dangerous territory.  Yes, the right to choice benefits men as well as women, families as well as individuals.  But if we weld ourselves too closely to the idea that abortion is the province of a couple, as opposed to a woman, we end up in MRAville, where men are demanding women carry their child to term against their will, or demanding women get abortions so men can avoid child support.  If abortion is truly a 50/50 proposition, then what do you do in a tie vote?

Walder tends to agree with me:

So I’m not so sure the male involvement in reproductive health message is so smart. I know men are half the problem. (Politically, economically and socially they may be rather more than that.) But I think the other half of this particular problem is to make them want to be partners rather than being told to be partners.

More than that, men need to know that their self-interest is clearly served by supporting reproductive health.  Men are “half the problem,” but the toolkit men have to solve that problem includes only condoms and vasectomies.  Teaching men that being supportive of reproductive health means working with their partner like one would work with a partner is vital.  Teaching men that they have equal input into issues of choice is not.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Men and Reproductive Health

  1. Teaching men that being supportive of reproductive health means working with their partner like one would work with a partner is vital.

    But FIRST we’ve got to teach women not to be man-trapping whores by getting themselves pregnant after promising a nice guy that he’s free to bareback!

    [/MRA]

  2. Well, yeah. I mean, that’s how they get you.

  3. eastsidekate

    Amen.

    Men should support reproductive health not because they have an equal say with respect to women’s bodies (as lovers, parents or members of society), but rather because women are people, autonomous people, even.

    It’s sort of pig-headed to claim that just because an issue doesn’t revolve around men, men will disregard it. Are men really that fucked up? Men should care about women’s rights, because women are people– not because men will get something out of it themselves (although a better society is a nice door prize).

    This is a classic take on feminism and women’s rights, and it never fails to piss me off. Hopefully the men who read it will, like Jeff, take offense to this sort of trashing of men’s characters and women’s supposed places.

  4. NameChanged

    The “responsibility factor” is huge. Since men do not shoulder as much of the reproductive burden, the “partnership” aspect of it is lost. I teach in a high school, and many of the pregnant teenage girls are left to make decisions they are uncomfortable with, because they are often alone. We are doing a disservice to the young men and young women by avoiding educating them on their choices.

    This is a little disorganized, but that’s how my brain works.

  5. What about the male birth control pill they’re developing? If it even gets popularized, I wonder how that will at all alter the stakes of the debate.

  6. BGW

    Men need to be more involved with reproductive health. Information is key in more than just the abortion question. I think that if men are more knowledgable about what women go through, either in pregnancy or anything related to reporductive health (ie: the effects of STDs on their partners)the better for everyone. I think you are too wrapped up in the abortion “choice” argument and it is clouding the big picture.

    P.S. Where has the moderateleft gone?

  7. moderateleft’s host and I are hashing it out, should be back by tonight.

  8. Sigh. Again it comes down to this: for too many people (men and women, but notably men) women are second-class humans at best, or nonhumans at worse.

    Can you think of describing wages and employment as “men’s issues”? Or politics as “men’s issues”? Or human rights?

    Well, no. Because things that affect men more than women are recognized as human issues, not just men’s.

    So why does something that affects the physical, financial, emotional, etc. well-being of over half of the Earth’s human population, with implications for the other half that include physical, financial, and emotional factors, get sidelined simply because it affects women more directly than other things?

    This only makes sense if one considers that women are less-than-human, and making men more concerned about the issue and not the women involved only perpetuates the problem.

    If the world saw women as human beings, “women’s issues” would easily be understood as “human issues, female edition” instead of some weird freaky thing that the male half of the population feels free to dismiss or ignore.

    Hell, even male children, or male fetuses, have more claim to humanity than adult women in the minds of some of these people.

  9. I like to joke that women’s issues are just like regular issues, only pink. There’s no sane world in which E-12 education is a less important issue than the capital gains tax rate, but the former’s a women’s issue (because moms are only as important as their kids) and the latter’s a “real” issue (because money is the purview of dads, er, rich people, um, “important stuff”).

  10. Tricia(now there's more than one)

    Pet peeve break–

    Dear Mr. Shand,

    “Orientate” (“re-” or otherwise) is NOT a word.

    Best regards.
    T

    — carry on…

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