Written by Chizoba Onyechi, Senior Program Officer for Family Planning, Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria
“Better relations between men and women” is the theme for the 2021 International Men’s Day, which is observed on November 19 to celebrate the positive value men bring to their families, communities, and the world. This year’s theme is one of the six pillars of International Men’s Day and strives to encourage open communication, improve gender relations, and promote gender equality.
Gender equality can enhance economic productivity, improve development outcomes, make institutions and policies more inclusive, and make our communities safer and healthier. The 2021 IMD theme is about creating a culture of mutual respect and open communication between men and women. This is in line with the goal of the Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria to create environments that enable achieving gender equality and sustained health behavior change.
As part of this work, Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria tested a premarital counseling prototype that was conceptualized during a formative assessment conducted in Ebonyi State and the Federal Capital Territory. Facilitated by marriage counselors, the premarital counseling sessions include reflections on key topics and priority health behaviors in support of better relations between men and women: equitable gender roles, shared decision-making, couple communication, gender-based violence prevention, early antenatal care, childbirth spacing, and early and exclusive breastfeeding. Marriage counselors counseled fourteen couples using the premarital counseling guide and issued certificates of completion to the men and women after they completed all eight sessions.
During these sessions, couples reflected on gender roles, norms, and relations in their upcoming marriage. The couples reported that the sessions opened their minds to the importance of healthy communication in marriage and enabled them to discuss topics they would not ordinarily consider important or discuss before marriage. With regards to priority health behaviors, all of the intending couples agreed to at least four antenatal care visits at posttest (compared to 96% at pretest) and 96% indicated they had an intent to discuss birth spacing with their partner (compared to 79% at pretest).
The couple communication session helped us to learn to resolve issues without involving a third party. My wife does not use to talk before, but she now talks more than me.
Antenatal care visits stood out for me because they helped us know that the husband should support his wife and not only give money but accompany her to antenatal care.
The premarital counseling intervention is intended to promote gender equality, which enhances family and community health and well-being and reduces social pressure on men to conform to gender stereotypes that significantly limit their potential as positive contributors to their relationships, families, and communities. Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria will continue to develop and implement interventions that promote better relations between men and women in support of health promotion and gender equality.
The author kindly acknowledges the dedication and hard work of the Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria premarital counseling prototype team: Shittu Abdu-Aguye, Deputy Project Director, Integrated Health; Dorathy John Deh, Program Officer, Advocacy and Capacity Strengthening; Mukhtar Ibrahim Gaya, Senior Program Officer, Advocacy; Rabiat Inikpi Hassan-Ahmed, Senior Program Officer, Capacity Strengthening and Sustainability; Eric Yila, State Coordinator, Federal Capital Territory; Gladys Onozare Sule, Program Assistant, Social Mobilization; Charity Odio Elom, Program Officer, Advocacy and Capacity Strengthening; Victor Ibekwe, Program Assistant, Social Mobilization; and Isah Ibrahim Fakai, Program Officer, Advocacy and Capacity Strengthening.