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SUVA, Fiji Islands (March 21, 2000 - Oceania Flash/SPC)---Government, non-government and representatives of the whole spectrum are gathering this week in Fiji's capital to find ways of involving more men in a matter they haven't so far felt very concerned about: reproductive health.

Traditionally, matters related to reproductive health, sexuality and family planning has been considered as either "taboo" or not a man's business.

The two-day workshop, which is hosted by the Pacific Community in the Fiji capital, is jointly organized by UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) and the Fiji Ministry of Health.

The round table started on Monday and brings together representatives from a broad spectrum of Fiji's government, non-government and civil society: the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Women and Culture, Fiji's Reproductive and Family Health Association, its Women's Rights Movement, Women's Crisis Centre, its Aids Task Force and the University of the South Pacific (USP).

Foreign associations (International Planned Parenthood Federation, Family Planning New Zealand), diplomats (New Zealand and Australian) are also attending the workshop.

"The idea stems from the 1994 World Population Conference in Cairo and the 1995 Beijing Women World Conference," UNFPA Pacific representative Jose Ferraris told Oceania Flash.

The general feeling seems to be that until now, men were probably not interested in reproductive health matters because, among other factors, they had never been targeted by awareness campaigns.

"Most reproductive health and family program had been targeted to women, men had not really been involved in family planning and reproductive health services. So what we're trying to find out is to seek greater male involvement in existing reproductive health, family programs, to ensure that men participate," SPC deputy director general, Dr Jimmie Rodgers, said.


"We need to sensitize men to their share of responsibilities in family planning and family life. We have to encourage them and engage in partnerships with spouses or non-marital partners," Ferraris agreed.

"The initiative is to get men to work in partnership with governments, non-governmental organizations, community groups, including churches, to discuss the issue of male responsibility in the area of sexual and reproductive health."

Part of the workshop focused on a survey conducted by the USP, which attempts to bring out the main traits of today's Fijian man and his perception of his role on reproductive health (see USP survey information below).

One of the conclusions is that there is a great need for more information, and awareness-building for Fijian men to become real "partners" in their relationship, whether married or not.

"Up to this point, I don't think men have really got themselves involved in reproductive health. Of course, in our society, we have been brought up in, the system is patriarchal, and a lot of men's thinking is going along those lines. So there needs to be some persuasion to be done for men to accept getting involved in reproductive health matters," Fiji Health minister Isimeli Cokanasiga told Oceania Flash.

"In our homes today, a lot of men don't accept their responsibilities in bringing up the children . . . And in a family, if, say, there are two or three boys, if the father is there to accept family planning and reproductive health, then the boys will learn from this. And the concept that man is part of reproductive health will be transmitted to the others."

The matter is also important, simply because of its demographic implications.

"Men’s involvement in reproductive health is something quite critical in the Pacific region. Some Pacific countries have some of the highest population growth rates in the world," Jimmie Rodgers notes.

"What we're saying here is that there is a role that men can play in contributing to increase awareness and understanding of their role."

"Men are really the people we need to convince on those issues, because they have a lot of say, they control these situations and when it comes to reproductive health, let's face it, it takes two to make a child."

The meeting is expected to trigger a pilot program first in Fiji, and then possibly in the rest of the Pacific region.

"Maybe the best targets would be male leaders, decision makers, youth groups and the churches. The churches play a big role, because ninety percent of the Pacific is following the churches," Rodgers anticipated.



A survey conducted by the University of the South Pacific (USP) on some 400 men (residing in the capital, Suva and northern Labasa town) and released this week shows so far that men in Fiji, whether indigenous or of Indian origin, do not consider reproductive health as their problem because of cultural factors, or simply because they are men.

The survey was commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and aimed at establishing men's perception of their role in the family, especially in matters of reproductive health.

It also covered such matters as men's views on the use of condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS.

One of the main traits coming out of the poll shows that on a near-unanimous basis, most men see themselves as breadwinners and "providers" in the family.

"This is often related to an authority and domination figure and implies the man is to respected by all, including the spouse," the study says. As a consequence, according to findings from the same study, "men see their role is to apply discipline both with partner and children . . .In some cases, this includes physical discipline of punching spouses, of which some men see nothing wrong", the survey said.

There are, however, some emerging exceptions.

"In response to sets of new ideas (disseminated by) the media, travel and other sources . . . some men, though few, have changed while others are in the process of changing their views on family and gender relations."

Sex and sexuality-related is in most cases still a taboo.

"These issues are not talked about by many men, especially by adults, middle-aged and rural men . . . There is little knowledge among most men of the reality of female orgasm as pleasurable and to be attained in partnership intercourse. . . .Sex is therefore demanded as a right without consideration to aspects of womanhood, time, feeling or mood."

Related consequences are that men think their desire comes first.

"In relationships, many men seem to want freedom, peace and companionship on their terms with an obsession for respect and support."

Here again, new ideas disseminated internationally, however, contribute to reverse the trend, the survey notes.

"A few men, especially the young ones, do, however, discuss their desires with spouses or partners. Dialogue and conversation on sex and sexuality is otherwise vitiated by tradition, culture and machismo."

Because of the acceptable image of manhood propagated by centuries of established culture, the family planning issue is also quite alien to most men, the USP study found.

"Many men appreciate the relevance of family planning and few will share some of the responsibility, while the majority still expect the woman to bear the responsibility."

"Overall, there is still a socio-cultural gap between manhood and womanhood which has prevented adequate knowledge of the fears, desires, experiences of women by men. While some men strive to know, others are constrained by gender role and prevailing cultural prejudices."

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