The ‘School for Husbands’ in Niger

A man in a classroom

Education is a human right. It is an extraordinary human right because is a doorway to accessing other human rights. 

In addition to imparting knowledge and skills on technical subjects, education is important in empowering individuals to reach their full potential and to make their own positive impact in their own life and that of their community. Several reports, including the 2018 State of African Women Report, clearly show that when girls attain higher levels of education, incidences of child marriage and early pregnancies are reduced significantly.  

At IPPF Africa Region, we work with various partners at national and sub national levels across the continent to deliver comprehensive sexuality education that provides young people with literacy and life skills to enable them to make important life decisions. This includes discussions around healthy sexuality which should be voluntary and experienced without risk. Sexual literacy should be age appropriate and context specific. 

Overall, young people should know that we all have different experiences and values but that we should all always experience sexuality in a safe and voluntary environment.

Education ensures the promotion of wellbeing. More so if education and health are combined to form an “edu-health” initiative like the “School for Husbands” that was rolled out in Niger. 

In the 2018 State of African Women Report, a case study outlines the wins that can be gained if education is accessible to all.

Below is the case study from the Report:

Through the organisation of regular information and discussion meetings with men in Niger on reproductive health and nutrition, improvements have been recorded in service uptake, alongside shifts in gender stereotypes, roles and responsibilities.

Niger has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the world: it is estimated that a woman dies giving birth every two hours. The Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) in 2015 was 533 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared with 873 in 1990. It is estimated that around 74% of women in Niger are illiterate and 80% are married by the age of 18. Men are seen as the heads of the household, and, although GVAW is very common throughout the country, it is not often reported and is seen as generally accepted within the community.

A study commissioned by UNFPA on obstacles to the promotion of reproductive health in Zinder region enabled a better picture of maternal mortality in Niger. This revealed several obstacles to the use of reproductive health services and reiterated that involving men would be very beneficial for the health of women and children in Niger. In 2008, UNFPA Niger put in place an initiative called ‘School for Husbands’ (Ecole des maris), setting up 11 schools in two health districts in Zinder, targeting especially vulnerable areas with relatively low reproductive health indicators. The idea behind the School for Husbands was to teach men about the importance of family planning, health and nutrition so that, together with their wives, they could make knowledgeable decisions for the well-being of the whole family.

The School for Husbands is a space for discussion and decision-making based on a spirit of voluntary membership. There is no ‘leader’: all members are equal and work in a non-hierarchical framework so that everyone assumes a part of the responsibilities. Men wishing to become members must meet the following conditions: be married, be a husband whose wife (wives) uses reproductive health services, be at least 25 years of age (this would be the husband), be there voluntarily, accept that his wife participates in associative structures, be available, have good morality, be a person who cultivates harmony within his family and be a husband who supports his family.

The men meet in groups of between eight and twelve members twice a month, supervised by the head of the health district of the locality. The discussions are centred around maternal health, and information is provided on how to deal with issues such as antenatal consultation, early marriage, attendance at health centres and family planning. This interaction is important because it helps in understanding what the men attending think about topics or issues related to maternal health and to educate them on and address any unhelpful practices. The school also encourages men to be involved in domestic chores by helping their wives with day-to-day duties such as cleaning, washing the dishes, washing the clothes and taking care of the children. This initiative is bringing about real change to families in Niger: many more men are now carrying out jobs traditionally designated as female. This, in turn, is creating happier households and healthier women and children.

The success of the School for Husbands since its launch in 2007 has been remarkable. It started in only eight localities in Zinder; today, the entire region is covered, with 130 schools. Some strong results have been recorded. For example, in rural Bandé, south of Zinder, the family planning utilisation rate increased from 2% in 2007 to 20% in 2011. The rate of antenatal care reached 88% in 2012, from 29% in 2006. Similarly, in Zinder region as a whole, the rate of childbirth assisted by medical staff was 43% in 2012, compared with 8% in 2006. In places where the School for Husbands exists, the rate of childbirths attended by skilled healthcare personnel has doubled.cxx Men also express changes: Laminu, a father of four who attended the school for three years, said ‘I’ve learned a lot of things. I’ve learned how to give my wife advice about exclusive nursing. I help her with housework. I take the child[ren] when she is cooking.’  The School for Husbands has improved communication within households around family planning and the benefits of using health services. It has also proven that, when men have a better understanding of the health of their wives and children, this results in lower maternal mortality and healthier children.