Mary Pat Kieffer Talks with Family Planning Voices

This post was originally published on Family Planning Voices, highlighting an interview of PCI’s Senior Director, Health, Mary Pat Kieffer. Family Planning Voices is a global storytelling initiative led by the Knowledge for Health (K4Health) Project and Family Planning 2020 (FP2020).

During the 15 years that I was working in East Africa, I’d talk with pregnant women at antenatal clinics and learn more about their lives, their families, and what it means to have access to an HIV program that could offer them hope for the future. These women’s personal stories and understanding their difficulties and hopes are what drove me for many years to do the work that I do.

When we’d work with women in a health facility, we’d provide services and give them information and send them home, we’d leave them on their own, knowing that they go to a household where they had a partner, and the woman is not generally the one making decisions. In a family, we would like to see partners discussing together and planning their lives together. But in many cases, women are fearful to discuss these issues and often are abused for doing so.

When I lived in Swaziland, something interesting happened to me. Our organization was called by one of the Members of Parliament, and he said, “Listen, I have a problem in a village. This woman came home from the clinic, told her husband that she had HIV, and then he beat her and threw her out of the house. I need you to come and talk to the men.”

And I thought, “Oh my goodness, how do we do this? Is it a legal issue, it is a family issue – how can we address this as an NGO?” We came up with a strategy, and we went and talked to the men. We set up a day of dialogue just for the men. And sitting there, listening to the men for the first time, it just blew my mind completely, because I started to understand their perspective.

One of the guys said to us, “You know, I sent my wife to the clinic to check on my baby. I didn’t send her to check on HIV and do all this other stuff.” It was like my “ah ha” moment. What does this man want? He wants his family to be healthy. He wants that child; he’s invested in it. And we started reaching men based on that perspective: the man’s role in keeping his family healthy. This changed the way the men engaged with their partners and their children.

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Photo and Interview By David Alexander, Family Planning Voices