Transforming the meaning of fatherhood in Kenya

Discussion group of men and women outside health centre in Kenya.

In the father-to-father group program in Kakamega County, Kenya, men learn to play a greater role in the health and nutrition of their pregnant wives.

In Kakamega County, Kenya, there has been a revolutionary shift in the way men approach fatherhood.

In a region that traditionally viewed pregnancy to be a woman’s affair, men are getting involved in the critical period between conception and childbirth to reduce maternal and newborn morbidity and mortality.

The catalyst?  An innovative new demonstration project launched through the Linda Afya ya Mama na Mtoto program.  Since 2011, the Micronutrient Initiative – in partnership with Kenya’s Ministry of Health and other stakeholders – has established 23 father-to-father groups to educate men on maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition. The groups dispel common myths and misconceptions that are detrimental to the health of pregnant women and children, and teach the importance of early and exclusive breastfeeding.

Community health worker Martin Tande joined a father-to-father group when he found out his wife was pregnant.

“I had heard that many mothers and babies die during delivery,” Martin said.  “I did not want that to happen to my wife.”

Men are often the primary decision-makers in the family and play a key role in integrating nutrition into maternal and child care.  But the benefits of father-to-father groups extend far beyond the immediate family.  Many members – like Martin – become proud advocates for male involvement in maternal and newborn health within their communities.  They promote the importance of antenatal and postnatal checkups, as well as the life-saving benefits of delivery at a healthcare facility.

The enthusiasm for the project has spread like waves throughout Kakamega County.  In nearby Lusheya, assistant chief Bakari Manya leads a father-to-father group.

“It is the work of the man to bring food to his family,” says Bakari.  “Therefore, it is important that the man knows the kind of food his wife and growing baby need for proper growth.”

When considering possible expansions to the program, Bakari hopes to eventually reach all fathers and future fathers in the 2,220 households in Lusheya.

Sharing knowledge saves lives.  The father-to-father group program in Kakamega County empowers men like Martin and Bakari to protect their families and play a greater role in the health and nutrition of women in their communities.

Group of fathers sit outside health centre in Keyan.

Members of the Lusheya Health Centre father-to-father group.