American soul singer James Brown put it succinctly when he said “this is a man’s world but it would be nothing without a woman.” A good number of men have entrenched positions on masculinity and detest being emasculated. However, wives contend helping with the baby at home, helping wash the dishes and fetching water at home, are acts of being a supportive husband.
It is to resolve such knotty issues and foster peace in various homes that the School For Husbands was instituted in Mamboué, in the Houndé commune in western Burkina Faso.
Once a week, about 15 married men meet at the school or club for husbands to discuss family life, guided by a facilitator. The initiative is Financed by the International Development Association through the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographics Project (SWEDD), and implemented with technical support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Given the harsh geography of Burkina Faso and the limited spread of wealth, health facilities are poorly equipped underlined by 95 women who died during childbirth as well as 747 cases of neonatal death recorded in 2018. It is why the husbands’ club is even more crucial as it allows men to share their experiences, ask questions, and learn from each other to promote the well-being of mothers and children. Women’s rights, reproductive health, maternal health, family planning and sanitary hygiene are all treated.
For Waimbabie Gnoumou, a 39-year-old farmer and father of eight with two wives, the orientation at the school has been revealing. “Before the school for husbands was launched in the village, there was a lot of tension among members of my family. And when I drank too much millet beer, I argued with my wives,” he acknowledged, adding, “But that is now all in the past!”
It’s a view shared by one of his wives Martine, “Now, my husband often brings me seasonings from the market for cooking. When I want to do the laundry, his eldest son goes with him to collect water from the creek. When I am pregnant, he goes to the health center with me for the weighings. On the day I gave birth, he was the one who drove me to the hospital and wanted to stay at my side during the birth. I was so happy on that day that I forgot about the pain from the contractions!”
Facilitators understand the need to target future husbands. “I learned a lot about family life and reproductive health. When I get married, I will have many discussions with my wife about contraceptive methods and family planning,” pledged Sienimi Gnoumou, a 23-year-old farmer in Mamboué and a member of the future husbands’ club.
For Dofinta Gnoumou, the Mamboué village chief and frequent arbitrator in marital disputes, “the launch of the school for husbands is a blessing. All the members of the husbands’ club have improved their behavior toward their wives and outreach is continuing in places of worship and bars in the village.”
The Boni Health and Social Promotion Center (CSPS) in the Houndé health district has also seen the number of women using new contraceptive methods increase during the first quarter of 2019, in addition to about 10 husbands attending prenatal consultations during the second trimester of the pregnancy and during delivery.
In Burkina Faso, where 52 per cent of girls are married at 18 and girls are less likely than boys to be enrolled in school as well as less likely to use modern contraceptive after marriage, “these programs and lessons tailored to fit the customs and culture of the communities is opportune. Married men, fathers and soon-to-be-husbands learn the importance of girls’ education, the need for pregnant women to receive antenatal care and safe delivery services, and the right of women and girls to live free of violence.”