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Home > Activities > Committees >Gender and Population (1996-99) > Seminar Report

Seminar on Men, Family Formation and Reproduction

Buenos Aires, Argentina, 13-15 May 1998
Organised by the IUSSP Committee on Gender and Population in collaboration with the Centro de Estudios de Poblacion-CENEP.


Motivating this event was the acknowledgement of men as the missing actor in gender studies and, after Cairo, the increased interest in defining men's roles in sexuality, reproductive behaviour and family dynamics. The seminar attracted academics as well as policy makers, who debated the issues for three days.

The seminar was organized in six sessions :

1) theoretical-methodological ;

2) approaching demographic research from men's perspectives ;

3) sexuality ;

4) men's life transitions ;

5) role of men in contraceptive behaviour and

6) household division of labour, fatherhood and child rearing. Session I : theoretical-methodological.

Axel Mundigo (Re-Conceptualizing the Role of Men in the Post-Cairo Era) reviewed how the call to define the role of men in reproduction in the ICPD recommendations has led to an increased interest about the role of men and their responsibilities in sexual and reproductive matters. He indicated how men have remained the missing clue in most population and reproductive studies. Such absence generates an incomplete and questionable picture of reality. To close this research gap is a prerequisite in the effort to reconceptualize men's roles, and for any attempt to change traditional collective beliefs about the meaning of masculinity - which emphasizes power and dominance - and to increase men's involvement in reproductive health, and to achieve gender equity.

Margaret E. Greene and Ann E. Biddlecom (Absent and Problematic Men : Demographic Accounts of Male Reproductive Roles) structured their paper around four aims: 1) to describe why men have had a relatively low profile as subjects in demographic research on reproduction; 2) to explain the growing interest in studying men's roles; 3) to evaluate existing research on men in developing countries and 4) to suggest directions for future research on men's reproductive roles. The loosening link between marriage and childbearing and the increasing divergence between women's and men's reproductive experiences require studying men and women not only as members of unions, but also as individuals. Efforts in that direction, suggest the authors, will enrich the understanding of reproductive behaviour and family formation.

Daniel Cazes (Work among Men in Latin America. Investigation and Practices, Results and Experiences) described the experience and results from the Laboratory for the Exploration of Masculinities activities, mainly workshops. In these workshops the patriarchal values of a masculine superiority always prevail, even among men conscious of women's oppression. Men's experiences of alienation are expressed, as well as their resistance to changing their traditional male positions, interpreted by them as a loss of privileges. Cazes points out that men change slowly, since they cannot yet perceive generic equity as pleasurable or possible. Therefore, gender egalitarian relationships are still a distant reality.

Graciela Infesta Dominguez (The Implications of the Researcher's Gender in the Construction of Data for Studies on Sexuality and Masculine Reproductive Health) based on a bibliographic revision of books on sexuality and male reproductive health, analysed how the researcher's gender influences the quality and nature of the information produced.

Three aspects were identified and compared among research pieces: 1) the research problem; 2) the theoretical focus and 3) the methodological strategies used.

The author found that while women tend to look at male sexuality and reproduction from a micro perspective, men tend to look at it from a macro perspective. Regarding the methodologies used, Infesta noticed that men tend to use quantitative methods, while women tend to combine quantitative and qualitative methods. In a second step, the author tested how the moderator's gender view affected the construction of data gathered from adult male focus groups, finding differences in the dynamics and predominant topics that emerged between the group co-ordinated by a woman and the one co-ordinated by a man. Session II : approaching demographic research from men's perspectives

Juan Guillermo Figueroa and Olga Lorena Rojas (Some Characteristics of the Reproductive Process of Males) developed a detailed review of the ways in which male fertility has been analysed to date and they suggest possible variants in the analysis of population policies that could help to develop a better framework for the study of reproduction. Traditional analysis of fertility has been based on stereotypes of what male and female identities are. The result has been a feminisation of reproduction and a generalised understanding of men as a secondary factors in that process. The differentiated and discriminative distribution of roles of men and women in reproduction makes it difficult to understand this process in relational terms. Figueroa and Rojas stress the need to understand reproduction as a process of social interaction, in which gender identities interact through the exercise of sexuality, with underlying power relations, and around which men's and women's rights and responsibilities need to be redefined. Methodological and economic difficulties account for the general tendency to omit male questionnaires in demographic surveys, which mainly rely on information provided by women.

Turgay unalan (Problems of Collecting Information from Men in Demographic Surveys : Experience from the 1988 Turkish Population and Health Survey) evaluated the advantages and disadvantages of administering male interviews in demographic surveys, based on a comparison of answers given by married couples in the 1988 Turkish Population and Health Survey. Although there is a high concordance in the reports of husbands and wives about fertility measures, the findings show that women's answers are a poor proxy for such factual variables like age and education of spouse, and even worst indicators of spouse attitudes and intentions about fertility and family planning.

Following the adoption of a gender perspective in the study of reproductive health, Guillaume Wunsch and Catherine Gourbin (Men's Reproductive Health : the Impact of Age of Father on Child Survival) briefly reviewed some literature on the impact of age of the father on aspects like fecundability and frequency of sexual intercourse, and also presented new findings on age of the father and child survival. The literature review points out that father's age has a depressive effect on marital fertility, waiting time to conceive, and sex-ratio at birth controlling by wife's age. In terms of the effects of father's age and child survival, the authors find a significant effect on the survival of offspring, both at infant and adult ages, but particularly clear during the perinatal and neonatal period. These results are basically based on data from low mortality countries - Belgium and Hungary - and Wunsch and Gourbin suggest the importance of extending the analysis to countries with higher mortality. Session III : sexuality

Gary Barker (Boys in the Hood, Boys in the Barrio : Exploratory Research on Masculinity, Fatherhood and Attitudes Toward Women among Low Income Young Men in Chicago, USA, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) presented exploratory research to assess what it means to be a man for low income adolescent males in Chicago and Rio de Janeiro. using focus group discussions, participant observation, and some in-depth interviews with young males at three sites that represent low income areas (one in Rio de Janeiro and two in Chicago), the research showed that for most of these youths, poverty and family situations have led to a lack of positive male roles. In both cities, the hegemonic masculinity model among low income males is one of calloused masculinity. An important feature that emerged from this research is that in both cities there are young men that question the hegemonic model of masculinity. The progressive youths that portrayed an alternative model were those who had an important relationship with someone who modelled alternative gender roles or those who belonged to an alternative peer group that embraced a progressive model of masculinity.

Wassana Im-em (Sexual Contact of Thai Men before and after Marriage) explored the sexual association of Thai men with prostitutes and non-prostitute partners before and after marriage, with particular focus on the socio-cultural facts that influence men's sexual behaviour and the relationship between this behaviour and the spread of AIDS in Thailand. The study was developed in twelve villages of the province of Chiang Mai and combined twelve group discussions, individual interviews to 39 men and women, and a standard survey to 293 men and 326 women. The findings were discussed around three themes: 1) prevalence of sexual contact before and after marriage; 2) men's reasons to pay for sex and 3) sexual relations within marriage. The study identified three parties involved in sexual relations among Thais : men, prostitutes, and non-prostitute partners. Among currently married men, 80% had sex with prostitutes before marriage and after marriage 40% of them had sex with prostitutes and 7% had sex with non-prostitute women.

Carmen Yon, Oscar Jimenez and Rocio Valverde (Representations of Sexual and Preventive Practices in Relation to STDs and HIV/AIDS among Adolescents in Two Poor Neighbourhoods in Lima, Peru : Relationships between Sexual Partners and Gender Representations) examined the socio-cultural characteristics that affect adolescent sexual practices in two poor neighbourhoods of Lima in order to understand their sexual and preventive practices around STDs and HIV/AIDS. The study describes two types of representations for girls: a) 'chicas tranquilas' (decent girls) and b) 'chicas movidas' (stirring girls) and how these gender representations of girls guide interactions between girls and boys and their sexual practices. Interestingly, boys understand such representation of girls as a rigid dichotomy, while girls admit intersections between the two categories. The sexual and preventive practices of boys and girls vary depending on the gender representations of girls and the type of relationship established. Romantic relationships do not incorporate the use of condoms and are the least protected against STD and HIV/AIDS. Finally, the study shows how health care services are a remote experience for most adolescents and emphasizes the role that socio-cultural factors have in the sexual and preventive practices of girls and boys.

M.E. Khan, Irfan Khan and Nupur Mukerjee (Men's Attitudes toward Sexuality and their Sexual Behaviour. Observations from Rural Gujarat) examined men's attitude and their sexual behaviour in rural Gujarat, based on data from a 460 sample survey and 10 focus group sessions involving 78 men. The results show some interesting changes in attitudes towards premarital and post marital sex. More than one-fourth (28%) of the men interviewed experienced sex outside wedlock, most of this unprotected: 78% did not use a condom. The more relaxed attitude toward premarital and post marital sex is not extended to women. The findings point out also that most reproductive decisions are primarily decided by the husband or the husband and wife together, and it is taken as a reflection of a broader situation of low status of women within the family and the society.

Aiming for a better promotion of reproductive health in Guatemala, Alfredo Mendez-Dominguez (The Sexuality of the Guatemalan Mam Indians and its Changes with urbanisation) looked at the changes that the process of urbanisation might be bringing in the sexuality and reproduction of the Guatemalan Mam Indians. A total of 140 men were interviewed in two villages, two towns and one city at the province of Quezaltenango, and the results were grouped around four areas: a) body conceptions and sexual implications; b) perception of own and the other gender's sexuality; c) men's cognitive-attitudinal maps related to sexual relations and feminine organs and d) description of the sexual act. In general the results show what the author describes as a pervasive ignorance of Mam men - regardless of residence - about anatomical and physiological aspects of sexuality. The author describes significant differences about men's and women's sexuality according to level of urbanisation. The study concludes that the Mam are bearers of a culture of sexual poverty and foresees small improvements toward a richer sexual life associated with behavioural, attitudinal and material changes linked to urbanisation. Session IV : men's life transitions

Emilio Parrado (The Timing and the Synchronization of Life Course Transitions among Mexican Men) analysed the effect that international migration has on the timing and sequence of life course events among men in a context of high prevalence of international migration : Western Mexico. Two main objectives guide the study: a) to discern the relationship between temporary labour migration and men's marriage timing and b) to identify the social background and institutional factors associated to a particular temporal ordering of first marriage and first international migration experience. While in the uS the migrant's odds to marry are 23% lower than the corresponding odds for men residing in Mexico, but the experience of one or more international migrations increases the migrant's odds of entering a marital union after going back to his community. Results show that in general, international migration accelerates marriage timing among Mexican men. Finally, the author emphasizes the role that both international migration and female labour participation have played in the stability of patterns of family formation in Western Mexico.

Barbara Ibrahim, Barbara Mensch and Omaima El Gibaly (Transitions to Manhood: socialisation to Gender Roles and Marriage among Egyptian Adolescent Boys). Based on a unique probability sample of adolescents aged 10-19, the study explored how young boys view gender roles in their own families and what they expect with regard to roles and responsibilities in their adult lives. Looking at education as a major arena of boys' socialisation, the data showed important changes between parents and adolescents : today, once enrolled, boys and girls are equally likely to remain in school. Regarding adolescents' knowledge about puberty, it was found that only 44.5% of boys are able to describe any of the changes of puberty and 69% of these kids reported learning about puberty by themselves, within what the authors describe as a culture of silence.

J. Mayone Stycos (Gender Differences in Attitudes toward Family Size: a Survey of Indian Adolescents) looked at family size preference of male and female adolescents in uttar Pradesh, India. In each of the three grades surveyed in the 99 schools included in the sample, male students desired more children than female students. Testing for variables that could explain such differences, the measure of values toward gender equality, religiosity and sexuality were found the strongest explanatory variables, particularly the first one. Students with more liberal views about male dominance, for whom religion is less important, and those less involved with sex favour a small family. Additionally, data show a strong preference for a two child family size which contrasts with findings of larger family size preferences of adult populations in other surveys. The author concludes that educational programmes destined to reduce demand for children should devote more attention to the transmission of egalitarian gender relations.

Lisa Francovich (Male Cohabitation and Marriage in Italy: First Results according to the 1995-96 Fertility and Family Survey) presented a description of Italian male behaviours regarding family formation and explored economical and cultural variables as mainly responsible for the predominance of traditional unions (mostly legal marriages). The study is based on data from the Fertility and Family Survey conducted in 1995-96. Having a first job and leaving the parental home are two life-events that appear closely related and both have large effects on the propensity of men to enter a union. The results show a rising trend for the young men to postpone departure from the parental home. A similar trend is evident regarding age at first job. The analysis confirms that time spent in educational training is the main component of the overall delay in the individual life course. In general, legal marriage prevails and consensual unions are still a rare phenomenon. Session V : role of men in contraceptive behaviour

Armelle Andro and Veronique Hertrich (Demand for Contraception by Sahelian Couples : Are Men's and Women's Expectations Converging? The Case of Burkina Faso and Mali) presented a comparative study of fertility preferences and use and demand of contraceptive methods in Mali and Burkina Faso, using data from DHS surveys. Data on Ghana is used for comparison. The authors pursued two main aims: a) to discuss the existence of an important need for family planning in both countries and b) to shed light on those couples with both partners agreeing to control their family size. The data showed a gender differentiated demand for birth control in Mali and Burkina Faso, strikingly higher among women than men, that is not the case in Ghana. However, there is no difference regarding fertility preferences between the Sahelian countries and Ghana. In the three countries there is a dominant role played by husbands in innovative behaviour and contraceptive use: when the husband agrees on limiting family size, the use of contraceptives increases, no matter the wife's preferences. The authors concluded that for the time being men are the ones deciding on fertility matters in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Edilberto Loaiza (Male Fertility, Contraceptive use and Reproductive Preferences in Latin America : the DHS Experience) compared, in a descriptive way, information collected by the DHS programme in Brazil, the Dominican RePUBLIC, Haiti and Peru regarding men's fertility, knowledge and use of contraception, fertility preferences and reproductive intentions, knowledge and attitudes regarding AIDS, and recent sexual behaviour. Evidence across countries of gender inequalities in the process of family formation, sexuality and reproduction is found. An important proportion of single and married men are having more than one sexual partner with most of them not using condoms and/or considering themselves under no risk of getting AIDS. Findings like that are calls for action.

Amadou Noumbissi and Jean Paul Sanderson (Does Man actually Decide in Africa? Couple Strategies about Fertility in Cameroon) compared men's norms, opinions and strategies in matter of fertility to those of their wives, using data from the Cameroon Demographic and Health Survey. The authors point out that for those couples where the woman is currently using contraception, there is discussion about family planning, and only the man wants additional births. It seems that educated women are able to accomplish their choice using contraceptives in spite of husband's opposition. The conclusion is that changes in socio-economic factors like education remain key factors to generate changes in attitudes around fertility.

Karen Oppenheim Mason, Philip Morgan and Herbert Smith (The Husband's Role in Determining whether Contraception Is used: the Influence of Gender Context in Five Asian Countries) examined two closely related issues: 1) the contexts in which husbands and wives are most likely to agree about having additional children and 2) the contexts in which husbands' fertility preferences or desires are most likely to lead to the non-use of contraception by wives who want additional children. The study uses data collected from five countries that represent different gender contexts: Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. At the country level, the evidence suggests that husband-wife agreement is stronger in the more gender stratified contexts than in the less stratified ones. But within countries, there is not consistent variation by gender context. In general the more gender stratified the country, the less weight that wives' fertility preferences had in determining contraceptive use relative to husbands' preferences. Finally, it was found that disagreements between husbands and wives explain just a small proportion of unmet need in these countries. Session VI : household division of labour, fatherhood and child rearing

Ana Lia Kornblit , Ana Maria Mendez Diz and Monica Petracci (Being a Man, Being a Father: a Study of Social Representations of Fatherhood) presented an analysis of social representations of fatherhood found among 100 young childless males in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The research combined qualitative and quantitative methods. From both analyses it was found that at the central nucleus of the social representation of father are: a) 'valuating' elements that make a father a good father, like understanding and responsibility b) functional elements, to make a father a guide to his children. At the peripheral system appear elements that refer to the family context in which fatherhood takes place and references to a father's PUBLIC world. In summary, being a father today means basically being responsible and affectionate, and no significant differences were found in such representation by age or socio-economic strata of male participants in the study.

Catalina Wainerman (Men and the Family) developed an exploratory study that reviewed the extent to which the increasing number of women in the labour force is being accompanied by a larger share of domestic and child rearing work time by men at home. Based on interviews with 35 middle-class two-earner couples in Buenos Aires, the study addressed: a) men's and women's domestic and parental activities today b) their parents' roles at their own homes and c) husbands' and wives' perceptions of the gender division of labour at home. The evidence is that domestic activities are strongly gendered, while gender segregation is much less prevalent concerning child rearing. Additionally, the interviewed couples shared somewhat more housework and much more child caring than their own parents did. In terms of perceptions, men viewed their own participation in household tasks somewhat greater than wives did. Wainerman concludes that in the future women will continue participating in the labour market, and men will increase their involvement in housework and parenting.

Hachiro Nishioka (Husband's Household Labour and Reproductive Behaviour -Case of Japan) analysed the effect that husband's role in housework and child rearing has on a couple's plans to have more children. Results show that in general husband's participation in housework is quite low in Japan, with the lowest level of participation corresponding to those husbands aged in their 40s. How late husbands return to their homes becomes the only decisive factor affecting husband's attitude to housework and child rearing. The findings show that husband's attitude toward child rearing has a significant effect on child planning: husband's direct co-operation in rearing the first child affects the wife's willingness to have another child.

Irene Casique

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