Editorial: The stronger sex-A A +A
Sunday, March 17, 2013
IT’S a modern horror story.
The man earned a living from the earth. As assiduously as he made his small plot yield crops, he and his wife produced, year after year, one child after another.
But if the man slaved to water, fertilize and protect his crops, so was he as indifferent and negligent of the family he was raising, if raising it could be called.
His wife seemed to shrink with every addition to the mouths, both human and animal, it was her chore to feed. That food was rarely sufficient did not bother him. Beyond his role in procreation, he regarded children as his wife’s responsibility.
That none of his children stayed in school barely cast a shadow on his concerns. When his wife took ill and the local midwife told him how her childbearing days were over, the man paused and looked chastened, as if a faithful beast of burden suddenly collapsed, dying before his eyes as the years of overwork finally caught up with the mortal creature.
Just as quickly, the man got over the minor domestic tragedy. He realized his older children were adults by now and could become “pabuwan,” vernacular slang for “astronauts,” a reference to the monthly salary received by household helpers.
Shifting the burden
Recalling this character as one of the most unforgettable in 10 years of working as a public health midwife, Metchel L. Umpad realized how powerfully men affect the lives of women and children—and remain blind to their impact.
In her current post at the Barangay Babag health center, an agricultural community 16 kilometers from Cebu City, Umpad noted how the most sought after birth control aid—pills, injectables, intrauterine devices (IUDs)—are used by women. The health center frequently runs out of stock on these.
Condoms remain in stock, though. Umpad guesses that men are shy to show up at the center and sign for the free condoms. Yet she said some wives or female partners ask her for condoms. Queried why women seem more daring than their men, Umpad said that since they are the ones who get pregnant, women have to be more aggressive in finding ways to escape the burden of childbearing and –raising.
If the man makes a “mistake,” it is the woman who “bears” with this mistake, so the joke goes.
As with other public health workers, Umpad believes couples should discuss and decide what’s best for their families, including the spacing of children, the ways and means to prevent unplanned pregnancy, and other health decisions that have consequences on children’s education, the couple’s work, and the family’s financial security.
However, it is an observable pattern that women and their children frequent health centers more often and with regularity than men. In visiting homes to promote maternal and child wellness, such as the importance of breastfeeding, barangay health workers (BHWs) interact only with women.
Yet decisions are made by male partners who, though absent due to work, disinterest or refusal to be involved in “women’s concerns,” measure out the burdens bearing down on women: should they have unprotected intercourse (even if she doesn’t want to)? Should she get pregnant again (even if she has difficulty making his earnings cover their current needs)? Should their baby be given milk formula instead of breast milk (so she
can go back to work soonest and not lose her looks)?
This “engendering” of health—the imposition of gender-defined roles and expectations on issues ranging from reproductive health to infant and young child feeding and maternal and child survival—challenges stakeholders to strategize how to draw out and involve the greater participation of men as spouses, lovers and fathers.
In celebrating womanhood this month, government and nongovernment advocates should not exclude men, treat them as the enemy, or give up on the immutability of gender power relations.
It should not be an option to give up on men because, to rework a piece of folk wisdom, that would leave women supporting the rest of the sky.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 18, 2013.