October 06, 2013

CARE Teaches Dads in Poor Indian Villages to Guard Moms’ Health

Yogesh Aditya/CARE

A father who attends Join My Village meetings with his wife plays with his year-old son as his older son looks on.

Suniti Neogy leads a new program at CARE to promote maternal health in India’s poorest villages. But she is not working just with women.

Instead, she is working to get men more involved in the health of their pregnant wives, including getting men to help with such tasks as laundry, child care, and other chores.

“The most important thing is to bring about change in gender norms,” says Ms. Neogy. “Women are expected to do everything, pregnant or not pregnant.”

The Men as Maternal Health Champions program began last year as part of CARE’s Join My Village initiative, which the international relief charity started in 2009.

Join My Village provides maternal-health programs in 480 villages in India; now, nearly 200 of those efforts also provide support for men. Over all, the program has reached about 15,000 pregnant women in 2013—3,500 of whom were accompanied by their husbands.

Since the program was started, Merck and General Mills have matched money from individuals to provide a total of more than $3-million to support two programs: one focused on microfinance and girls’ education in Malawi, and another focused on maternal health and girls’ education in India.

Teaching men about the health needs of their pregnant wives and what to expect during delivery and after birth has spurred conversations that seldom took place before. In one case, CARE workers were able to convince a man to stop physically abusing his pregnant wife after they taught him about the health consequences to her and their unborn child.

“This kind of discussion has never happened anywhere here,” says Ms. Neogy, a CARE community educator for more than a decade.

The Join My Village initiative teaches men how to be attentive to the health and education of their wives, sisters, and daughters. After participating, men involved in the program begin taking more interest in their wives’ pregnancies and seeking more information on how to be supportive, says Ms. Neogy.

“You can’t empower women or ensure healthy, safe pregnancies without reaching male partners,” says Sarah Moser, program director at Join My Village. “We’re seeing a significant transformation of individuals in the program.”

Send an e-mail to Doug Donovan.