In Cameroon a woman has a 1 in 35 chance of dying during child birth. For comparative purposes, a woman in New Zealand has a 1 in 3300 chance while that in Finland 1 in 12,200. The relationship between lack of spousal support/joint decision making on Family Planning and Maternal mortality and morbidity couldn’t be more glaring. Men’s engagement in maternal, newborn and child health and family planning in Cameroon drops lower each year as women tend to carry the burden of maternal health-related issues alone. Moreover there is hardly mutual decision-making between couples on whether or not, or when to have children. The subsequent psychological pressure and lack of support on the mother and baby can become overwhelming, leading to an increase in maternal, newborn and child mortality and morbidity in Cameroon. These, coupled with the country’s 21% unmet need for family planning, puts Cameroon at risk of not meeting the target of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5 - that of reducing maternal mortality and morbidity by 75 per cent by the year 2015.
Numerous studies have revealed the high levels of potential risk of maternal mortality if men are excluded from the decision making process regarding FP, and an overall partner support during pregnancy and childbirth. Through the “Men Project” funded by Paris-based HRA Foundation, our holistic intervention is using the art and forum theatre to spark a community discourse around the issue and start creating change from within. Through workshops, theatre, the art, and other targeted activities aimed at educating men, the “Men Project” is building stronger links between men and maternal health, subsequently increasing their participation in family planning decisions by improving spousal support. Working closely with the local Health Centre of three village communities, a functional Family Planning unit has been created, new incentives to encourage joint antenatal visits introduced and two additional birth control methods made available at the centre.
The positive changes in men’s attitudes and perceptions towards maternal health are glaring following an increase in their participation in family planning decisions and in the maternal health of their partners. Through this programme, numerous male community role models have been bred to lead other men and 8 teenage mothers have been encouraged by the project to show up at the health centres for Family Planning advice. In addition, through arts and theatre performances at the end of the project, 20 women signed up for long-term contraception, and issue hitherto considered unholy or an abomination. Men also supported the women in signing up for birth control and the follow-up processes.