The reproductive health education programme of the Ministry of Women and Veterans'
Affairs (MWVA) is about to introduce a national system of male volunteer counselors
to address the "male component" of sexual health and family issues.
The program is designed to address the perception that Cambodian women's reproductive
health choices and practices - including pregnancy, birth spacing and prevention
of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)- are dictated by men.
"Even if [women] knew the use of condoms could prevent infections, [women] had
no control or influence over husbands who refused to use condoms even when they knew
[that they had an STD]," explained Prum Rong, a volunteer male reproductive
health counselor in the MWVA's pilot project in Svay Rieng's Kodom Pei village.
While MWVA's female reproductive health volunteer counseling program is well established,
the decision to include men in the program is new and will now target men between
15 and 64.
Male volunteer counselors are being trained to advise men on responsible sexual behavior,
prevention of STDs, responsibility of men in their family's reproductive health and,
above all, the importance of having only three or four children with a gap of at
least two years to ensure food, education and good health for all.
According to the MWVA's national project manager Khieu Serei Vuthea, a pilot project
initiated by the ministry last year in 12 communes of Battambang and Svay Rieng provinces
has shown encouraging results. Specifically, the pilot program had borne out predictions
that 'man-to-man' communication on delicate issues of sexual behavior was more effective.
These volunteers collaborate with the female volunteers in their target areas and,
if deemed appropriate, hold joint discussions. The female volunteer also brings those
men who oppose their wives' use of contraception to the attention of male volunteers
for peer counseling. The programme will be integrated with regard to issues like
gender equality and family violence.
"On the basis of [the pilot project's findings], the UNFPA has decided in principal
to support the project at the national level," Khieu Vicheanon of the United
Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said, adding that men were good at encouraging other
men in using condoms for prevention of HIV and other STDs and as a birth spacing
Those men who are made aware of their role and responsibility in reproductive health
have also been found to not respond with violence to their wives' insistence for
the use of birth spacing methods.
The MWVA is currently drafting a plan for the extension of the pilot project to national
level, which will complement the existing programme targeting women and the similar
programs being run by the health ministry and other NGOs.