In Niger, the School for Husbands program offers an innovative approach to a widespread problem: male opposition to women’s use of contraception. In these informal village schools, men are educated on the importance of reproductive health care and encouraged to support their wives’ access to family planning. Involving men is crucial in this highly patriarchal society, as they are the ones who control resources and decide whether women should get medical care.
Men in traditional villages often believe that contraceptives will make their wives sick or sterile, or even encourage them to be promiscuous. They typically don’t understand the need for prenatal care or skilled birth attendance, and don’t want to spend the money for their wives to go to clinics.
In the School for Husbands, men meet twice a month to learn about and discuss reproductive health issues. Support, education, and supervision are provided by the Ministry of Health and local NGOs, such as the Association Nigérienne pour le Bien-Être Familial. The schools are also strongly endorsed by traditional and religious leaders—a key factor in their success.
Some schools also work in collaboration with a support group made up of women, which goes a long way towards facilitating communication across the gender divide. When women in one village explained that the lack of a proper latrine was a major barrier to visiting the maternity clinic, the men built one. They also constructed a house for the midwife.
With the help of UNFPA, Niger has now successfully scaled up the program across the entire country—1,000 schools in all. Similar programs are also underway in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, and Sierra Leone.