He4Her and She4Him – How Men’s and Women’s Health are interlinked (part 1)

A theatre play on Violence – a mental health issue that has a huge impact on men and women (source Wa-Wa NGO)

Women’s health matter – as also men’s health do.

In many locations awareness trainings, esp. for women’s health are taking place. This is important. However, it is also important to raise more awareness on men’s health, because the health of a man has a huge impact also on the health of the woman – and viceversa.

A Making More Health pilot on Men’s health training has started

Under the umbrella of the Making More Health initative we have launched in July 2021 a pilot on men’s health in Homabay, Western Kenya. The training has been developped together with our local NGO partner WA-WA in Homabay, Lake Victoria. The pilot has already started, the first module has taken place.

The interest by the men, but also the women in the families has been really big.

In the pilot program that we run in close collaboation with the WA-WA NGO in Homabay we have set up three modules. In these session men and women participate together. The virtual training modules focus on raising awareness on several men’s health issues and topics that are linked and influence women’s health, as well. There are three focus topics that will be disucced during the pilot phase:

a) drugs and alcohol

b) toxic masculinity

c) mental health.

A survey tool will help to understand better the needs and the otucomes of this pilot so that the planned follow up program can build on it. This men’s training will be completed by activitivies we run on women’s health in the same location.

Virtual awareness trainings on men’s health are completed by onsite group discussions and follow-ups

Group discussion on several men’s health topics conducted by our local NG partner Wa-Wa

In addition, the local NGO has set up group break up discussions.

Breaking taboos – a first step to understand better how men’s health influences also women’s health and viceversa

Cultural taboos in our communities – an introduction (part 1)

To understand better the situation of men’s health in Africa we have put together several topics that influence men’s health. Read here about cultural taboos (part 1):

Accommodating young people

Adults often assume that young people are too young to discuss and be concerned about sex. However, these assumptions are often based on their own embarrassment about the subject and prevent young people from having access to the information they need for healthy relationships. There is a much-needed provision of accurate information on sexual and reproductive health and suggested activities aimed at exploring values and attitudes in relation to culture and the changing world. Schools can be a site of vulnerability to HIV infection where girls, in particular, are at risk from abuse by teachers and older pupils

“Young men need to reflect about how traditional and negative male behaviours affect their own lives and how they can construct 3 alternative ways of interacting in their intimate relationships. We need to understand how young people make decisions and what influences their behaviours. For young people, norms that discourage access to information and services for safer sex can mislead them in cultures where HIV is seen as a sign of sexual promiscuity. Gender norms shape the way men and women infected with HIV are perceived, in that HIV-positive women face greater stigmatization and rejection than men,” explains Harriet Kamashanyu.

Harriet is an Afrika kommt! fellow (a program that is sponsored by the German government) and participates in this year’s program in Germany. During her stay she supports our Making More Health team.

Domestic violence

African culture is based often on patriarchy and this perpetuates the subordination of women. One major issue surrounding women is the problem of violence. Abuse against women and children is still common and feeds into the culture and tradition of male dominance. Because women are still refused rights and are seen as inferior to men, they are more likely to be mistreated at the work-place, in the community and at a personal level. Women are viewed as the property of men, first of their fathers and then, when they get married, of their husbands. This is encouraging male dominance and also increases and encourages violence against women.

In order to stop the spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, women need to be given power and control over themselves and their sexual lives. If women are given the authority that they deserve, men will not be able to make decisions for women regarding sexual practices. These issues regarding women’s rights and equality have an important and substantial impact on the continuing spread of HIV/AIDS.

Gender

In African culture and African traditional life, gender is defined according to roles and functions in the society. It is what it means to be male or female in a certain society that shapes the opportunities one is offered in life, the roles one may play, and the kinds of relationships one may have. These produce social norms in Africa that strongly influence the spread of HIV infection. For women, risk-taking and vulnerability to infection are increased by norms that make it inappropriate for women to be knowledgeable about sexuality or to seek advice on contraception. Gender norms also influence the way in which family members experience and cope with HIV and with AIDS deaths. The attention for prevention is taken away from men and their roles in the society. One good example is highlighted by Daniell (2009) who in his article said that “virginity testing of girls helps to draw attention away from the role of men in the maturing epidemic, consideration of which has been conspicuously absent in the popular discourse on AIDS at all levels of South African society”.

Male homosexual behaviour

Currently very few services exist which address the needs of sexually active male homosexuals. They often experience discrimination when accessing many health care services. Many people are ignorant or have no knowledge at all on the issues which are affecting people, particularly men who have sex with men and gay men, particularly in relation to their sexual health.

The African male attitude towards HIV/AIDS and its prevention

African men are suspicious of HIV and AIDS prevention strategies. Many men see these programs as birth control programs. Others find it difficult to understand how one can use condoms and still enjoy sex. Condom usage prevents ‘flesh to flesh’ contact in sex. There is also a belief that this practice wastes one’s ‘bullets’ (i.e. sperm), which might be against God and ancestors.

Masculine norms and mental health of African men

The social and cultural expectations make men think of themselves as risk-takers, thus, leading to the probability of engaging more in risky behaviours that could lead to injury and death than women (Apalkova et al., 2018Smith, 2017). The supposed environmental pressures have been proposed to be one of the major cause of men’s premature death and have predisposed them to engage in unhealthy behaviours (e.g. risky sexual behaviour, alcohol use and abuse, high-risk sports, reckless driving) detrimental to their mental health (Griffith et al., 20112012). These challenges are visible within and across cultures and it calls for sensitivity within gendered health research especially to understanding men’s health and their relationship to masculine norms (Courtenay, 2002).

Masculine norms have been stated as a significant factor that encourages men to engage in restrictive emotionality, which is conceptualised as the state of being unable to express one’s feelings or and difficulty in finding words to express one’s emotional state due to fear

Masculine norms and mental health of African men: what can psychology do? (nih.gov)

Study of the relationship between Black men, culture and prostate cancer beliefs

The burden of cancer and the cost of survival and living with chronic disease have increased in the last two decades, with prostate cancer as the most common cancer among men (Global Burden of Disease Cancer Collaboration, 2017). Discrepancies and inequalities in access to health systems and knowledge across the world, contribute to varying levels of health outcomes and survival among populations (Adeloye et al., 2016; Thakare & Chinegwundoh, 2015). 

Please note: More information (part 2) of this article will be published soon.

More sources:

Full article: Study of the relationship between Black men, culture and prostate cancer beliefs (tandfonline.com)

‘The study identified practices such as groom flogging, adolescent fatherhood, having first sexual intercourse at or before age 14, multiple sexual partnership, concubinage, drinking in excess and sexual coercion.Traditional practices ‘put men’s health in danger’ – Sub-Saharan Africa (scidev.net)

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