Engaging Men in Gender Mainstreaming Initiatives in Health: A Perspective from Honduras

ULAT staff discuss the meaning of fatherhood as part of the project's work to build gender awareness. {Photo credit: MSH}

Within the USAID-funded Local Technical Assistance Unit for Health (ULAT) Project in Honduras, led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH), the integration of gender is an important element of our technical assistance. To promote gender awareness and equity, we have held workshops, video forums, testimonials, and discussions that raise awareness and train staff in methodologies for mainstreaming gender into health.

On Honduras’ Father's Day, March 19, we held a discussion featuring testimonies by three fathers, all members of project staff, who shared what being a father and fatherhood mean to them, how they learned to be a dad, and the role of parents. The men discussed the roles of fathers and fatherhood today, including new ways that have not yet been fully understood or respected.

The group noted that the role of a father is intertwined in the power relations with his partner, daughters, and sons; and the role is often portrayed as protector, provider, caregiver, companion, someone who provides opportunities, and shares feelings.

It is interesting to compare this discussion to the current situation of gender in Honduras.

While the role of the father as provider and disciplinarian was reiterated in our conversation, the men agreed that fatherhood is much more; it includes aspects such as affection, communication, friendliness with their children, and avoiding physical punishment; in other words, the role emphasizes interpersonal relationships and open communication between parents and children—a concept that is not yet prominent country-wide.

Activities such as this innovative discussion have benefits to our project interventions. ULAT recently undertook an assessment of the gender mainstreaming process with the Ministry of Health, and found an acute lack of approaches for involving men in health issues, and that overall, gender mainstreaming in health was minimal. In light of this, we are promoting the creation of a team within the Ministry of Health to focus on gender integration, along with the development of a national policy on integrating gender awareness and gender equitable approaches to serve as a reference in all processes in the context of health sector reform.

Also, as part of a pilot program, ULAT has designed a guide with actions that promote the support of men to their partners in all phases of pregnancy and childbirth.  These include actions that address the common barrier that "women have to ask permission from the man to be allowed to go to the hospital to give birth,” ultimately hoping to avoid maternal deaths caused by their inability to access medical facilities.

Finally, in all of our work, ULAT continually reaffirms the importance of addressing gender and masculinity in all aspects of women’s and men’s health. We will use the results of the Ministry of Health gender assessment to design interventions that will address the existing gender, ethnic, and intercultural inequities that represent barriers to sustainable, quality health services. The recommendations from the assessment will support the development of a plan to strengthen the political will and place the issue of gender awareness on the political agenda and launch the integration process; these recommendations include forming an interdisciplinary team to tackle gender mainstreaming; and developing a national gender policy in health.

By encouraging our own staff to build awareness of their own understanding and belief around gender, we are then more effectively able to both understand the national perspective and start introducing the necessary changes to have better health for all in Honduras.

Dr. Juan de Dios Paredes is director of the USAID-funded Local Technical Assistance Unit for Health Project (known as ULAT in Spanish); Maribel Lozano, is the project’s principal technical advisor for gender.