Gender assumptions and the success of health programs

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How assumptions about gender affect the success of health programs

Making assumptions about a "typical household" or "women's work" can often jeopardize the success of development programs. For example, a project in Kenya intended to produce high-yielding maize crops faced serious production losses because the program coordinators failed to take women farmers in Kenya into account. The coordinators assumed that only men were farmers and that only male farmers were interested in innovation. In reality, women play an important role in farm production in Kenya. Had the program coordinators recognized that fact, they would have had a greater chance of success.

Family planning services offer similar lessons. For example, in the early 1980s, the World Bank and the Indonesian Family Planning Association conducted a project to promote IUD use in Java. They presumed that women make family planning decisions without the influence of their partners, their culture, and other external factors. This presumption resulted in high discontinuation rates. This case suggests that family planning services focusing exclusively on women don't acknowledge men's often critical roles and responsibilities in women's use of contraception.

Gender issues in family planning

Clearly, the sustainability of family planning programs depends on acknowledging the role gender plays for both women and men in contraceptive decision making and use. For family planning providers, the expressed need for attention to gender issues often comes when women clients report that their male partners are barriers to good reproductive health. Some men refuse to use or facilitate women's use of contraception. Some partners continually re-infect women with sexually transmitted infections. Some women are beaten for simply raising the issue of contraception.


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