Applying a gender lens to social norms, couple communication and decision making to increase modern contraceptive use in Ethiopia, a mixed methods study

Reprod Health. 2022 Jun 13;19(Suppl 1):138. doi: 10.1186/s12978-022-01440-8.


Background: Ethiopia, sub-Saharan Africa's second most populous country has seen improvements in women's reproductive health. The study objectives are (1) using mixed methods research, to identify determinants of contraceptive use in four regions of Ethiopia, and (2) to explore the relationship between social norms, gender equitable norms, couple communication and contraceptive use.

Methods: The study includes both quantitative and qualitative methods. Researchers interviewed a total of 2770 women of reproductive age (15-49 years) in 2016 using a structured survey covering six health areas. Eligible households were identified using a multi-stage cluster-sampling technique. Using probability proportionate to size sampling, the researchers selected 10% of the proposed target woredas (24 of 240 woredas). The qualitative study included 8 rapid assessments, 16 in-depth interviews, 24 key informant interviews, and 16 focus group discussions. Qualitative data were analyzed using NVivo version 8.

Results: Adjusted odds ratios were estimated for current modern family planning use among married women with logistic regression. The primary influencing factors for contraceptive use are gender equitable norms, high self-efficacy, and weekly exposure to the radio. Qualitative data indicate that the timing of contraceptive use is linked to the social norm of the desired family size of 4-5 children. Gender inequity is evident in couple communication with men controlling decision making even if women initiated conversations on family planning. A key finding based on an inductive analysis of qualitative data indicates that the micro-processes of couple communication and decision making are often dictated by male advantage. The study identified six micro-processes that lead to gender inequity which need to be further examined and researched.

Conclusions: Barriers to contraceptive use include unequal couple communication and compromised decision making. Inequitable gender norms are also barriers to modern contraceptive use. The study recommends using a gender lens to study couple communication and decision making, with the goal of making both processes more equitable to accelerate the adoption of modern family planning methods in Ethiopia.

Keywords: Couple communication; Decision making; Ethiopia; Family planning; Gender equity norms; Mixed methods study; Social norms.

Plain language summary

A reproductive health study involving mixed quantitative and qualitative methods was conducted in Ethiopia in 2016–2017. The overall objectives of the study are (1) to use mixed methods research to identify determinants of contraceptive use in four regions of Ethiopia, and (2) to explore the relationship between social norms, gender equitable norms, couple communication, and contraceptive use. The survey identified gender inequitable norms as a major barrier to contraceptive use. The qualitative study further examined the gender dimension and the interlinkages between gender norms, couple communication, and decision making for contraceptive use. Data showed that gender norms related to the daily living dimension of the gender equitable men (GEM) scale are significantly associated with current contraceptive use. The qualitative component provides us with in-depth data on the daily experiences of rural Ethiopian women in the context of modern contraceptive use. We learned that social norms related to the desired number of children and the timing of first contraceptive use are interlinked. Specifically, both women and men told us that most couples do not use contraceptives until their family size is complete, after 4–5 children. Similarly, couples who opt for 2 or fewer children are termed “selfish” and “not interested in children.” Couple communication occurs within the context of decision making where men’s decisions are usually accepted, and women’s decisions are often deferred or rejected. Programs should promote respect for women’s decision-making abilities and equitable couple communication. Notably, this study finds that microprocesses of couple communication and decision making are gendered, featuring female disadvantage. Further research is required on these microprocesses of gendered couple communication.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Communication
  • Contraception Behavior
  • Contraceptive Agents*
  • Decision Making
  • Ethiopia
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Norms*
  • Young Adult


  • Contraceptive Agents