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.