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India needs to prioritise men’s participation in family planning

Nov 23, 2016

Increasing male participation, key to India’s family planning programme, writes Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, PFI.

Poonam Muttreja

New Delhi: On World Vasectomy Day, 2016 we must reiterate that all methods of contraception need to be voluntary and based on the specific need of each individual opting for it.

Dr Doug Stein and Mr Jonathan Stack founded the first World Vasectomy Day in 2013 -and set out to inspire more than 100 doctors in 25 countries to do a 1,000 vasectomies. The key take away for India on World Vasectomy day is to prioritise men’s participation in family planning.

We need to stop referring to family planning and sexual and reproductive health and rights, as women's issues. They are as much men's issues, they are society’s issues; they are moral issues; they are ethical issues; they are issues of social justice and human dignity.

Family planning is important since it is directly linked to the health of women, children and families. The Indian government has estimated that if the current unmet need for family planning could be fulfilled within the next five years, the country can avert 35,000 maternal deaths and 12 lakh infant deaths.  Sustained engagement of men in health and family planning not just as clients of family planning and reproductive health services, but as responsible partner to women, has the potential to improve access and use of family planning services and to bridge the gap of unmet need of contraception (12.8% - According to NFHS 3).

Evidences suggest that male engagement in family planning could act as a catalyst in improving contraceptive uptake in already aware and willing population (women according to NFHS-3) besides system issues such as accessibility availability etc.

In India, traditionally, the use of contraceptive methods has been skewed towards women. Data from NFHS III indicated that among the total 48.5 percent use of modern contraceptive methods – men only contribute 6.2 percent and contraceptive use by women constitutes 42.3 percent.

Among the male methods of contraception available, use of condoms is 5.2 percent and less than 1 percent for male sterilization. The recent directions of the Supreme Court of India in the Ramakant Rai (I) & Anr v. Union of India and others case draw attention to expanding awareness and access to a number of methods of contraception, specifically modern spacing methods.

However, the response to this trend in contraceptive use cannot ignore the importance of awareness, counselling of all methods by both men and women along with the importance of ensuring that all methods are used voluntarily and in full knowledge of the side effects of each.

Given that use of contraceptive methods in India is riddled with social barriers and challenges, a systematic integrated approach with IEC activities for men, awareness about myths and misconception, is required, that would result in better uptake of contraceptives and shared responsibility by men. Sustained behaviour change communication and on-ground work to engage men while still promoting women’s rights and decision making is vital.

Population Foundation of India remains committed to continued work to ensure access to quality family planning services and a larger number of contraceptive methods for the men and women who need it. The efforts of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to promote vasectomy and male engagement through communication and on ground programmes are welcome.

We continue to work with the government to support its efforts towards achieving India’s vision for improved reproductive health and family planning, alongside its commitments internationally including the Sustainable Development Goals, 2015 and the London Family Planning Summit of 2012. We are soon launching a digital campaign on key issues within family planning and encourage all to participate in voicing greater choice.

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