"Men can take part": examining men's role in supporting self-injectable contraception in southern Malawi, a qualitative exploration

Reprod Health. 2022 Aug 9;19(1):174. doi: 10.1186/s12978-022-01476-w.

Abstract

Background: The male engagement framework for reproductive health, which presents men as family planning users, supportive partners, and agents of change, is being increasingly incorporated into family planning strategies worldwide. We applied this framework to understand the perspectives of and role that men play in supporting the use of self-injection of subcutaneous depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA-SC).

Methods: We conducted a qualitative analysis using data from a study conducted in southern Malawi to develop and test a counseling message to introduce DMPA-SC and self-injection. We conducted 4 focus group discussions (FGD) with male community leaders and partners of DMPA-SC users, 13 interviews and FGDs with public and private sector family planning providers, and 30 interviews with female clients. We explored all participant groups' perspectives on what could facilitate or prevent women from choosing self-injection, including views on men's attitudes towards DMPA-SC and self-injection.

Results: Overall, participants expressed ways that men could be engaged as cooperative users, supportive partners, and agents of change, and felt that this would help build a more supportive environment for DMPA-SC self-injection use. Men held favorable opinions of DMPA-SC self-injection: they felt that it is useful, described ways they could actively and emotionally support their partners in its use, and described their role in normalizing it.

Conclusions: We suggest that DMPA-SC self-injection has the potential to be both a female-controlled and a cooperative method, based on the ability for women to use it autonomously and the option to encourage male partner involvement (only where the woman welcomes this). Shifting the conversation from viewing men as a barrier to men as a resource may allow us to harness the social capital of men and transform traditional power dynamics, therefore establishing more enabling environments to support autonomy and choice for DMPA-SC and self-injection use.

Keywords: Contraceptive injectables; DMPA-SC; Family planning; Malawi; Male Engagement Framework; Partner communication; Qualitative analysis; Self-care; Self-injection; Sub-saharan Africa.

Plain language summary

Self-injectable contraception (DMPA-SC) has the potential to expand family planning access. Once users are trained to self-inject, they can obtain multiple units and self-inject every three months privately, without needing to return to a health provider. Considering men’s role in supporting self-injection can inform family planning programs’ male engagement strategies.We conducted a study in Southern Malawi which included interviews and focus group discussions with male community leaders and partners of DMPA-SC users, family planning providers, and female family planning clients. We applied the male engagement framework to these data to understand the potential roles men can play as cooperative users, supportive partners, and agents of change. We found that men can support their partners in DMPA-SC self-injection use through actively participating in the injection process, providing emotional support and encouragement, and advocating for other men and communities to accept self-injection and family planning use.We acknowledge that encouraging male participation could potentially lead to women’s autonomy being restricted, so offer concrete suggestions to create an enabling environment that keeps women’s and girls’ needs central. For example, we propose that program materials expand their description of DMPA-SC self-injection to include a potentially cooperative option, which may be appropriate for women who want to involve their partners. Further, we suggest that social and behavioral change programs channel men’s social capital in order to normalize self-injection. When their traditional role as norm influencers is harnessed, men may encourage their communities to support women’s autonomy and choice for DMPA-SC and self-injection use.

MeSH terms

  • Contraception
  • Contraceptive Agents, Female*
  • Female
  • Gender Role
  • Humans
  • Malawi
  • Male
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate*

Substances

  • Contraceptive Agents, Female
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate