Perceptions of obstetrical interventions and female genital cutting: insights of men in a Somali refugee community

Crista E Johnson-Agbakwu, Tara Helm, Amal Killawi, Aasim I Padela
Ethnicity & Health 2014, 19 (4): 440-57

OBJECTIVES: Somali women are at increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes. Anxiety and perceived stigmatization toward female genital cutting (FGC) further fuels an atmosphere of miscommunication and distrust, contributing to poorer health outcomes. While the attitudes and experiences of Somali refugee women toward healthcare are widely known, the views of Somali refugee men are largely unknown. This study examines the perspectives of Somali men toward FGC and women's childbirth experiences in one refugee community in the USA.

DESIGN: Community-based participatory research partnerships with key stakeholders within the Somali refugee community incorporated qualitative methods comprising semi-structured focus groups and individual interviews to elicit male participants' perspectives on FGC, experiences during childbirth, and the perception of increased cesarean deliveries among Somali women. Qualitative analyses involved a framework and team-based approach using grounded theory and conventional content analysis.

RESULTS: Acculturation influenced changes in traditional gender roles fostering new dynamics in shared decision-making within the household and during childbirth. Participants were aware of FGC-related morbidity, ongoing matriarchal support for FGC, and were generally not supportive of FGC. They perceived health-care providers as being unfamiliar with caring for women with FGC fueling profound aversion to cesarean deliveries, miscommunication, and distrust of the health-care system.

CONCLUSION: Our work yields new insights into Somali reproductive healthcare through Somali men, namely: strong matriarchal support of FGC, discomfort in men's presence during delivery, and a strong aversion to cesarean delivery. Our findings support the need for advocacy to engage Somali women, their partners/spouses, and health-care providers in facilitating greater continuity of care, building greater trust as men become engaged throughout the spectrum of care in the decision-making process while respecting traditional norms. Cultural health navigators should bridge communication and support between providers and patients. Our work provides foundational knowledge to inform culturally appropriate health interventions within a Somali refugee community.

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