Masculinity and Health in Nigeria: Vulnerabilities, Indifference and Options
Since the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994, sexual and reproductive health (SRH) programs have responded to ways in which socially constructed gender norms have shaped women’s experiences of SRH. There has been little in the way of attempts to understand men’s perception of gender norms however, nor how this impacts men’s experience of SRH. In the place of such understanding is the fact that men are often blamed for women’s SRH needs, yet this view is outdated and insufficient to effectively advance discourse and improve SHR programs and systems.
This study, published in the Gender and Behaviour Journal, was designed to examine how socially constructed differences between men and women affect men’s experience of SRH. The study draws on qualitative data generated in 2005 from twenty focus group discussions, ten in-depth interviews, and ten interviews with community leaders in urban and rural areas of South East Nigeria. The group discussions and interviews were conducted among men of four age groups: 15-24, 25-39, 40-54, and 55+, while gender role theory was the theoretical framework for the study.
The major themes that emerged from the content analysis included: men’s health risks, beliefs about masculine gender norms, and attitudes about vulnerability to health risks. Although traditional masculine ideologies and practices were identified, there is nevertheless evidence of a shift from traditional to nontraditional attitudes and practices among men in the area. Most of the men were aware of their health needs, but thought that researchers and policy makers in Nigeria were indifferent to these needs. The findings highlight the necessity of incorporating men’s SRH needs into existing reproductive health programs, which would promote effective male involvement in their partners’ SRH. Implications of findings for future research and advocacy are also discussed.