Many women will attest to the comfort and safety they feel when their husbands and boyfriends support them throughout the pregnancy and more especially during the birth of their child.
For most African men, however, matters to do with reproductive health are solely a woman’s responsibility. Women are left to pick the family planning option that will work for them and are questioned when such methods fail. Their husbands leave them to manage house chores even when they are heavily pregnant.
In the recent past, campaigns and social strategies have been employed to encourage more men to support their pregnant wives by all means necessary.
While men in other countries are being encouraged to get involved in pregnancy and the welcoming of their children, in Tanzania, the Ministry of Health has banned fathers from entering into labor wards to witness the birth of their children.
The decision was arrived at after some members of the House of Representatives expressed concern over the matter saying that is “against religious principles.”
One of the members even called on the government to look for women doctors to attend to their fellow women. "Why to allow men into labor wards; it is abusing women,” Nadir Abdul-Latif Yussuf argued.
Presently, though out of sheer medical necessity, only male doctors and nurses are allowed into labor wards during childbirths.
Did women complain that they preferred being attended by women medical practitioners? Were women consulted about the decision to kick the father of their children out of the labor wards? Or was the decision purely another way for the patriarchal society to demean women?
By allowing male medical professionals to attend to women for now, is the religious problem solved? Or are men running away from the pains, and psychological trauma associated with witnessing child births among fathers?
Some women say that the presence of the husbands during childbirth made them relax and confident that everything would be well. A woman from Nairobi, Kenya told the Star that she felt relaxed and had no worries about anything as her husband stood by her throughout the pregnancy.
“Even during labor when the pains were excruciating, it comforted me so much when he would hold my hand, rub my back and encourage me to be strong. I am lucky to have a man like him,” Emma Mogambi told the news outlet.
Debating the contentious issue about the presence of men in labor wards in Tanzania in 2014, the Tanzania National Nurses Association Executive Secretary, Ms Romana Sanga affirmed that rubbing and assurance from men is a positive thing for women in labor.
She told 'Sunday News' that the decision to have men in the room during birth should be a matter of choice that has been stipulated in a number of health policies in the country.
In other research, however, men have been found to increase stress, pain, complications and delay in the delivery process. The study noted that such evidence was mostly discovered amongst women who lack emotional intimacy with their partners.
Midwives and nurses in Tanzania maintain that the tangible barriers that prevent many men from witnessing the birth of their children are privacy (infrastructure) and cultural beliefs. In public hospitals women have to share labor wards, making it difficult for each woman to have their own privacy during delivery. The attitude by healthcare workers towards having men in delivery rooms was also cited as another constraint.
Even as it is increasingly becoming fashionable to accompany women in delivery rooms, early counseling or psychological preparations should be encouraged especially for men who wish to be part of the birthing experience. This will help them become aware of what happens during birth and then they can choose to join or not.
Men who have attended counseling together with their women tend to be more supportive and caring. Some men have even learned how to carefully support new mother and child when it comes to initial breastfeeding process.
The discourse of whether to allow men into delivery rooms is a contentious issue being discussed not only but across the world. While, there can never be a generalized answer if men should or shouldn’t be allowed into labor wards, the matter can be half-solved if it were left to couples to decide what they want. The government should work to ensure that the infrastructure and services are up to standard for whatever choice picked by a couple.