Sexual and reproductive health (SRH) surveys around the world, especially in low- and middle-income countries, have been and continue to be the primary sources of data about individual-, community-, and population-level sexual and reproductive health. Beginning with the Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices surveys of the late 1950s, SRH surveys have been crucial tools for informing public health programming, healthcare delivery, public policy, and more. Additionally, major demographic and health modeling and estimation efforts rely on SRH survey data, as have thousands of research studies. For more than half a century, surveys have met major SRH information needs, especially in low- and middle-income countries. And even as the world has achieved impressive information technology advances, increasing by orders of magnitude the depth and breadth of data collected and analyzed, the necessity and importance of surveys have not waned. As of 2021, four major internationally comparable SRH survey platforms are operating in low- and middle-income countries—the Demographic and Health Surveys Program (DHS), Multiple-Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), Population-Based HIV Impact Assessment (PHIA), and Performance Monitoring for Action (PMA). Among these platforms, DHS collects the widest range of data on population, health, and nutrition, followed by MICS. PHIA collects the most HIV-related data. And PMA’s family planning data are collected with the most frequency. These population-based household surveys are rich data sources, collecting data to measure a wide range of SRH indicators—from contraceptive prevalence to HIV prevalence, from cervical cancer screening rates to skilled birth delivery rates, from age at menarche to age at first sex, and more. As with other surveys, SRH surveys are imperfect; selection bias, recall bias, social desirability bias, interviewer bias, and misclassification bias and error can represent major concerns. Furthermore, thorny issues persist across the decades, including perpetual historic, measurement, and methodological concerns. To provide a few examples with regard to history, because the major survey programs have historically been led by donors and multilateral organizations based in the Global North, survey content and implementation have been closely connected with donor priorities, which may not align with local priorities. Regarding measurement, maternal mortality data are highly valued and best collected through complete vital registration systems, but many low- and middle-income countries do not have complete systems and therefore rely on estimates collected through household surveys and censuses. And regarding methods, because most surveys offer only a snapshot in time, with the primary purpose of monitoring key indicators using a representative sample, most analyses of survey data can only show correlation and association rather than causation. Opportunities abound for ongoing innovation to address potential biases and persistent thorny issues. Finally, the SHR field has been and continues to be a global leader for survey development and implementation. If past is prelude, SRH surveys will be invaluable sources of knowledge for decades to come.
Madeleine Short Fabic, Yoonjoung Choi, and Fredrick Makumbi
Tim Shand and Arik V. Marcell
Engaging men in sexual and reproductive health (SRH) across the life span is necessary for meeting men’s own SRH needs, including: prevention of STIs, HIV, unintended pregnancy, and reproductive system cancers; prevention and management of infertility and male sexual dysfunction; and promotion of men’s sexual health and broader well-being. Engaging men is also important given their relationship to others, particularly their partners and families, enabling men to: equitably support contraceptive use and family planning and to share responsibilities for healthy sexuality and reproduction; improve maternal, newborn, and child health; prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV; and advocate for sexual and reproductive rights for all. Engaging men is also critical to achieving gender equality and challenging inequitable power dynamics and harmful gender norms that can undermine women’s SRH outcomes, rights, and autonomy and that can discourage help- and health-seeking behaviors among men. Evidence shows that engaging men in SRH can effectively improve health and equality outcomes, particularly for women and children. Approaches to involving men are most effective when they take a gender transformative approach, work at the personal, social, structural, and cultural levels, address specific life stages, and reflect a broad approach to sexuality, masculinities, and gender. While there has been growth in the field of men’s engagement since 2010, it has primarily focused on men’s role as supportive to their partners’ SRH. There remains a gap in evidence and practice around better engaging men as SRH clients and service users in their own right, including providing high-quality and accessible male-friendly services. A greater focus is required within global and national policy, research, programs, and services to scale up, institutionalize, and standardize approaches to engaging men in SRH.
Shaon Lahiri, Elizabeth Costenbader, and Jeffrey B. Bingenheimer
Research in diverse fields has examined how social and gender norms, broadly defined as informal rules of acceptable behavior in a given group or society, may influence sexual and reproductive health outcomes. One set of conceptual and empirical approaches has focused on perceptions of how commonly others perform a behavior and the extent to which others support or approve of the behavior. Another set of approaches has focused on how social norms emerge from structures of gender and power that characterize the social institutions within which individuals are embedded. Interventions intended to improve sexual and reproductive health outcomes by shifting social and gender norms have been applied across a wide range of populations and settings and to a diverse set of behaviors, including female genital mutilation/cutting, the use of modern contraceptive methods, and behavioral risk reduction for HIV. Norms-based intervention strategies have been implemented at multiple socioecological levels and have taken a variety of forms, including leveraging the influence of prominent individuals, using community activities or mass media to shift attitudes, and introducing legislation or policies that facilitate the changing of social norms. Recent advances in social and gender norms scholarship include the integration of previously disparate conceptual and empirical approaches into a unified multilevel framework. Although challenges remain in measuring social and gender norms and studying their impacts on sexual and reproductive health-related behaviors across cultures, the research will continue to shape policies and programs that impact sexual and reproductive health globally.