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Men's Role in Reproductive Health and Gender Equality


In recent years, the role of men in reproductive health and gender equality has received increasing attention.

An International Concept

The concept of "men's role" was initially put forward at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. In the Action Plan approved during this conference, there was a special part on "men's responsibility and role." It points out that, "Men in positions of power must be challenged to take responsibility for and play an important role in promoting women's rights and gender equality. Efforts should be made to promote responsible sexual behavior and mutual respect between sexual partners, with particular emphasis on changing men's attitudes and behavior. Men who take their share of the responsibility for housework and family care are paving the way for women to participate on equal terms with men in economic, political and social life outside the home.

The emphasis on the men's role was further strengthened at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. The 25th item in the Beijing Declaration clearly advocates that men should be encouraged to participate in all actions concerning gender equality.

Significance

The men's role emphasized by the international community refers to men taking their share of the responsibility in sex and reproduction, involving family planning, caring for children and housework. It indicates that with the development of society, the meaning of the men's role is gradually enriched and expanded, which reflects that people recognize men's responsibilities, rights and obligations in a wider and deeper sense.

The concept of the men's role was brought forward with the purpose of reinforcing men's sense and action of participation, making them voluntarily protect women's reproductive health and promote family happiness. This in turn would give a proper opportunity for men to take their role in maintaining reproductive health, caring for children and doing housework so as to share the responsibility with women.

The significance of the men's role lies in not only taking their responsibility for reproductive health, children fostering and housework, but also promoting gender equality in private life and social life to make men and women equal partners both in public and private life.

Action in China

On May 6, 2008, the publicity and advocacy ability training course for presidents of women's federations at the provincial and municipal levels was opened in Beijing. The All-China Women's Federation and UN Population Fund hosted the activity as part of the sixth activity of social gender equality promoting program. The theme of this activity included reducing the gender ratio of new-born babies and combating violence against women.

Challenging Tradition

Men's understanding and support is the precondition of women enjoying equality and development. In a sense, men play an important or even key role in realizing gender equality, which is due to men in the position of power in real life. Therefore, the concept of the men's role undoubtedly challenges the traditional patriarchy-centered culture that has dominated the world for thousands of years, and which is also a deep revolution in human civilization.

Promoting men's participation and change provides a significant way to build gender equality and build harmonious relations. Take the reproductive health for example. In the situation of a wife getting a reproductive tract infection, if the doctor merely provides the wife treatment without her husband participating in prevention or therapy, the wife's disease probably will not be healed. It is a similar case for domestic violence. The occurrence of domestic violence will not cease until the man is educated and the woman learns how to protect her own rights.

Mass Media

Integrative methods need to be used to push forward men's participation, involving not only the force of law and policy, but also the support of public opinion.

Hence, mass media play a special role in changing people's concepts and behaviors and arousing their recognition of men's participation. For example, the first national appraisal of the "Top 10 Men of the Time" initiated by China Women's News was intended to promote the men's role. It showed that gender equality and harmony was not only in accordance with building a harmonious society, but also the important foundation of it.

Status Quo

At present, men's proactive participation is not enough in terms of reproductive health.

Let's look at contraception, for example. The proportion of women taking contraception is 85 percent while the counterpart of men accounts for just 15 percent or so. Moreover, about 10 percent of men use condoms and 5.3 percent take the measure of sterilization. It shows that women taking contraception dominates the reproductive health and they take most of the responsibility in family planning. Accordingly, the number of sterilized men declines annually. In 2003, the number of men who took sterilization fell to 308,000.

This trend is also proved in the recent investigation in Chengde County of Hebei Province and Liuyang, a city of Hunan Province, organized by the All-China Women's Federation. In the surveyed areas, the primary contraception method was using an intra-uterine device on women and the second is for women to get sterilized. The amount of people using condoms is very low and few men take sterilization. From this perspective, the situation of the men's role in reproductive health looks hazy.

(Source Women's Studies Institute of China)


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