Child health: a joint responsibility
During my recent trip to Kenya, my mission was to explore the ways we can better engage women as advocates for child health.
In several interviews with health care workers, NGOs, and community leaders, I repeatedly heard the words, “Just give women information. They will do the rest.” It's true. I was inspired by their immediate willingness to share this knowledge with others.
But women in these communities also understand that engaging men is just as important. “Talk to couples,” they told me, “not just women.” Men are traditionally raised with a largely “hands-off” approach to child health, but slowly, this picture is changing. Several health care workers maintain that fathers quickly changed their level of engagement with their children when they saw the benefits of doing so. I was encouraged to witness this trend first hand.
In the communities I visited, I expected to encounter resistance to changing health habits, especially when it challenged deeply entrenched gender roles. But I found that once people were empowered with knowledge, they not only embraced these habits, but shared them freely. It was inspiring to see that people were motivated by nothing else than the sheer joy of seeing others in their community happy and healthy. To me, that is true advocacy.
“Prevention is less expensive than a coffin.” Webuge, a community health volunteer in Western Province, teaches a men's group about how to prevent diarrheal disease. During the course of the conversation, the community leader insisted that they find ways to enhance proper hygiene and protect their water points.
Traditionally, men did not accompany their wives and children to the hospital, but this picture is changing. This father is waiting with his daughter outside Alupe District Hospital so she can receive her routine immunizations.
“Talk to us and our husbands about child health, as couples,” was the suggestion of these mothers during our discussion.
This father is giving the mother a break from managing their energetic, curious child.