Gender dynamics influence household-level decision-making about health behaviors and subsequent outcomes. Health and development programs in Niger are addressing gender norms through social and behavior change (SBC) approaches, yet not enough is known about how health care decisions are made and if gender-sensitive programs influence the decision-making process.
We qualitatively explored how households make decisions about family planning, child health, and nutrition in the Maradi and Zinder regions, Niger, within the context of a multi-sectoral integrated SBC program. We conducted 40 in-depth interviews with married women ( n = 20) and men ( n = 20) between 18 and 61 years of age.
Male heads of household were central in health decisions, yet women were also involved and expressed the ability to discuss health issues with their husbands. Participants described three health decision-making pathways: (1 st pathway) wife informs husband of health issue and husband solely decides on the solution; (2 nd pathway) wife informs husband of health issue, proposes the solution, husband decides; and (3 rd pathway) wife identifies the health issue and both spouses discuss and jointly identify a solution. Additionally, the role of spouses, family members, and others varied depending on the health topic: family planning was generally discussed between spouses, whereas couples sought advice from others to address common childhood illnesses. Many participants expressed feelings of shame when asked about child malnutrition. Participants said that they discussed health more frequently with their spouses’ following participation in health activities, and some men who participated in husbands’ schools (a group-based social and behavior change approach) reported that this activity influenced their approach to and involvement with household responsibilities. However, it is unclear if program activities influenced health care decision-making or women’s autonomy.
Women are involved to varying degrees in health decision-making. Program activities that focus on improving communication among spouses should be sustained to enhance women role in health decision-making. Male engagement strategies that emphasize spousal communication, provide health information, discuss household labor may enhance couple communication in Niger. Adapting the outreach strategies and messages by healthcare topic, such as couples counseling for family planning versus community-based nutrition messaging, are warranted.