Oh Father, Where are thou?

Mh. Hakim belived that children are immunied so that they can have less chidlren in future...

Mhmd. Hakim belived that children are immunied so that they can have less chidlren in future…

OH FATHER… WHERE ART THOU?

We looked here, we looked there,
But he was nowhere to be found.
We went to his home
We looked for him in the fields
He was absent all around.
Oh father where art thou?
Oh father where art thou?

There sits his wife, all by herself,
She is 7 months pregnant yet least concerned for her health.
What is her BP, she does not know,
You can guess her weight, but she herself is unsure,
A blood test, she has never had
Ultrasound, now what is that?
Why she needs to know all this, she does not understand,
‘What has it to do with the health of my child?’ she retorts back.
But the question is: where is her better half?
Where is the father of the child she bears?
Someone look for him as he needs to ask her to rest
To ensure everything will be for the best.
To inquire about her health,
And decide what needs to be done next.
Oh father where art thou?
Oh father where art thou?

There sits another woman, ready to deliver.
She came at the back of a three wheeler, looking for a healer.
She has many complications, but considers it hearsay,
‘…it is our destiny’, is all she has to say
Her MIL is there and so is her mother,
But the question is: where is her better half?
Where is the father of the child she bears?
Somebody go find him and tell him to be by her side,
Hold her hand and tell her that things will be alright.
Ask him to inquire from the doctor what needs to be done,
Demand good services with no intent of pun.
Oh father where art thou?
Oh father where art thou?

So that’s the whole story. While conducting a month and a half of fieldwork in the Kishanganj district of Bihar, one of the most important target groups we sought to cover, was the father to be. We never anticipated that it would be so difficult to get hold of him or so little would come out of our interaction with him. The first challenge we understood: he is the sole earner of the family and works in the farms, as an absentee laborer or as a daily wage earner. So we not finding him at home, can simply be indicative of his efficiency. However in case of the latter we realized how he has grabbed the role of the most insignificant player in the household with regards to matters around maternal and child health.

This feminine masculine dichotomy was found to be prevalent everywhere.  The roles of men and women are well defined and they mostly never interchangeable. The husband takes care of the physical sphere wherein his job is to financially provide for the family and the mothers-in-law take care of the emotional sphere wherein she invariably becomes the reference point for any information around households matters, pregnancy, child care, etc. ‘…Hum kya kar saktein hain. Aurat log sab jantein hain. Kuch nahi pata hota to humari maa hain na. Who sab janti hain. Admi log kya keh saktein hain, yain to aurat logo ka kaam hain.’  (‘…What can we do? Women know everything. If they need any help or guidance then they ask our mothers. Our mothers know everything. What role can men play in this; it is not our space to talk.’)- Father, Pothia District.

Similar sentiments and notions find support from every member of the family and the community. The women we interacted with could not anticipate a role of the men different than what it currently is- ‘…what can men do, women have to deal with such matters as pregnancy and all’, was how most of the women we interacted with, responded. Not just families and communities propagate this belief but also the healthcare workers. In one of the Routine Immunization day we observed, there was a man who had come with his 6 month old child to get him immunized. However the ANM completely rejected the idea of having the father get the child for immunization. She simply asked the man to return and send the child with the mother. She very proudly argued that a father is not the right person to take care of the child and also it is not his place to be. ‘…baap thodi na bachein ko sambhal sakta hain. Maa ko aana chahiyein na. Yain pita ke anein ki jagah thodi na hain. Bachein ko kaun chup karayega, kaun dudh pilayega’.

Our interactions with key players around MCH raised a number of pertinent questions:

  • Is each and every member of the household sufficiently equipped to understand the complicacies of the maternal and child health?
  • Is the woman in question the only person the communication channels need to cater to?
  • Is our healthcare ecosystem all-inclusive?
  • Do families feel empowered enough to ask important apposite questions from the healthcare workers or the relevant others?
  • What should the role of the fathers be in contrast to what it is right now?
  • Most importantly, in what ways can these questions be best approached through better collaboration and design?
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