16th International Conference on AIDS
and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA)
4–8 December 2011
"'Addis Birhan': A program for involving men and boys in HIV prevention and reproductive health in Ethiopia"
Sisay Mellese and Gebeyehu Mekonnen
Men are more likely than women to have multiple sexual partners and be at risk of becoming infected and transmitting the virus to their partners. Particularly, the negative constructs of masculinity and their inequitable gender norms often put men at risk of STI/HIV infection, fuelling the spread of HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia. Working with men and boys is a key strategy for challenging these traditional masculinities and gender norms thereby improving gender equality, equity and strengthening the response to fight against HIV/AIDS. However, the roles of men and boys in HIV prevention and reproductive health (RH) have received little attention. Programs that improve male involvement are less recognized and poorly conceptualized in Ethiopia. At present, Population Council with the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth has focused on working with men and boys in promoting gender equality and HIV prevention in Ethiopia.
Addis Birhan (Amharic for 'New Light') is a program designed to increase the involvement of men and boys in HIV prevention and gender equality between men and women as well as boys and girls. The program targets married men and out of school boys aged 10–24 in rural and urban areas of Amhara, Tigray and Addis Ababa regions. Trained male mentors mobilize groups of married men and boys separately on a weekly basis. Meetings are held at the community level, attending the mentorship course for 3 months. The strategy applied is not a simple transfer of information, but designed to help men and boys to understand and critically assess their behaviors, traditional gender norms and the notion of masculinity that can negatively affect their own and their partners' health.Since mid-2008, one hundred-eighty male mentors have been recruited and trained from the project communities. These mentors have mobilized a large number of married men and boys (77,000) in the project areas. Qualitative research indicates that program participants and their partners have described changes such as increased couple communication and shared decision-making with their partners around sexual and reproductive health (SRH) issues, aversion of risky sex with commercial sex workers and limiting alcohol consumption; behaviors that can reduce their risk of HIV infection. Many men increasingly accompanied their wives to the ANC/PMTCT clinics to seek couple HIV testing and counseling services.
Data shows that men and boys can challenge their own inequitable gender norms, attitudes and the notion of masculinity that contribute to gender imbalance, vulnerability and risk of STI/HIV infection. Men and boys show a greater desire to be involved in playing more active roles in their partners' and families' health.
Men and boys should be targeted and encouraged to discuss issues around traditional gender norms, masculinity and sexuality that can negatively affect their own and their partners' health. Continued development of programs and strategies to increase male involvement in these issues is necessary to improve outcomes in sexual and reproductive health for couples.
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