“Unless men are actively engaged in supporting better health and well-being for families and the empowerment of women, progress will remain slow; women will remain vulnerable to reproductive health threats, including
gender-based violence”

The Enable programme provides critical health services to improve maternal and newborn health outcomes in the rural Eastern Cape. Through the Mentor Mother model, the programme employs local community women to support and empower other women to be agents for their health.
A missing link to this life-saving strategy is that as women have been empowered and supported to take charge of their health, men, who traditionally are the key decision-makers in homes and communities, have not been engaged and supported.

Historically and culturally men have been excluded from maternal health and childcare discourses. However, there is compounding evidence that male engagement yields positive outcomes in early initiation of antenatal care, minimizes the risk of postpartum depression, and ultimately can improve their own physical and mental health.

Male engagement in health programming is an established method for involving partners and fathers in sexual and reproductive health. This involves challenging notions of masculinity and traditional perceptions of manhood and requires men to question power dynamics in their actions or their words at the personal, interpersonal and societal levels and to take responsibility for change.

The Enable Male Engagement intervention aims to engage men to inform, equip, empower and transform them to actively protect, promote and support the health and well-being of themselves, their partners and their children. It seeks to empower men as gender advocates to speak out as active agents and stakeholders who can transform social norms, behaviours and gender stereotypes that perpetuate discrimination and inequality.

Specifically, the intervention seeks to:

  1. Create appropriate and safe spaces for men to engage on these various discourses.
  2. Increase male involvement in their partners’ health – SRHR, MNCH, ECD.
  3. Equip men to be responsive parents and caregivers so as to actively promote their children’s health and development.
  4. Address Gender-Based Violence.


The intervention will employ a Positive deviance approach where men who are exemplary will be recruited and trained as Mentor Brothers. Furthermore, role models with healthy relationships and support of their partners and children’s health will be identified and promoted.

Recognizing that transformation is a process, the intervention consists of a series of engagement workshops/sessions with the same men over a period of 6 months. Mentor Brothers will begin with workshops and sessions to understand contexts and unpack norms (KAPBs) underpinning men’s limited involvement in their partners’ health and children’s care. This will entail dialogues and mutual learning. The next series of sessions will challenge and address harmful masculinities such as aggressive sexual behaviour, multiple concurrent sexual partners, and emotional distancing through dialogues, critical reflection and skills building. Alternative norms and positive masculinities will be proposed, these include embracing healthy relationships; sharing responsibility for contraception; supporting safe childbirth; preventing violence; and protecting themselves and their loved ones from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. This multiple-session and transformative approach will be used so as to create lasting and sustained behaviour change – transformation.

Specific activities will include:

  1. Engaging Community leaders – workshops with Chiefs, Headmen and community leaders as men in positions of influence and power.
  2. Workshops for men as fathers and caregivers
  3. Engaging boys and young men (B&YM) – workshops that specifically target this group.
  4. Building sessions on men’s engagement in other activities that are attended by men
  5. Identifying and promoting champions as role models and advocates who will act as agents for change in their communities
  6. Community dialogues to engage the broader community
  7. Reaching individual men through home visits – through the Mentor Brothers, men will have access to health services. This includes sexual and reproductive health, linkage to care, as well as support with obtaining identity documents and social grants.

This cross-cutting intervention will complement existing interventions in the Enable programme, in particular, maternal, newborn and child health, reproductive and women’s health, nutrition, and early childhood development. Expected outcomes are:

  1. Increased involvement in nurturing care of children by men.
  2. Increased involvement in household activities by men.
  3. Increased uptake of health services and decreased risk-taking behaviour by men and boys.
  4. Increased knowledge about sexual and reproductive health rights by men.


“The quality of an intervention is only as good as the quality of the training and support”

Mentor Brothers will receive training on the Enable Mentor Mother programme, Early Childhood Development and Men’s health. As male engagement programming is an untrodden territory in the Enable programme, it is critical to obtain support from partners with experience in implementing male engagement interventions. Thus, training and capacity building for Men’s health and Male engagement will be provided by these partners. A training of trainers’ approach may be taken. Evidence on best practices for male engagement practices will be employed to develop session material and content. Resources and materials will also be sourced from partners. Ongoing support will be provided through monthly debriefing meetings, and quarterly/bi-annual refresher training. Similar to Mentor Mothers, psycho-social and self-care support will be provided to MBs.

Men’s positive engagement in women’s health and children’s care has the potential to bring multiple benefits for women, children and men themselves. The intervention is aligned with the South African National Integrated Men’s Health Strategy, the WHO men’s health and wellbeing strategy, and the Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 5.

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